Recently, multiple large carriers have been requesting exemptions from the FMCSA that would allow them to use hair testing instead of urine testing for drug screening purposes. It’s a topic that’s been hotly debated already, and now the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO – which has 32 member unions – has submitted a comment to the petition which provides a forceful argument against hair testing.
While petitions have also been filed by other carriers, the TTD attached their comment to a petition submitted by J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., Schneider National Carriers, Inc., Werner Enterprises, Inc., Knight Transportation, Inc., Dupre Logistics, Inc., and Maveric Transportation, LLC.
The carriers claim that they should be allowed to use hair testing instead of urine testing since hair tests are more sensitive and therefore reveal a higher rate of drug contamination. But according to the TTD, that higher rate of contamination could be largely due to false positives, incidental exposure, and variables as benign as different hair color.
Opponents of hair testing, including OOIDA, have claimed in the past that hair testing has a higher rate of false positives. According to the TTD comments, this can be partially attributed to a lack of regulation. Urine testing is standardized and must follow strict protocols, but hair testing has no such oversight. Congress mandated that the Department of Health and Human Services should come up with hair testing guidelines as part of the 2015 Fast Act. Those guidelines were due in 2016, but have not yet been published.
Critics also point out that while urine testing checks for use of drugs, hair testing can return a positive result from even incidental exposure in public places. That’s in part because the DOT cutoff level for a positive result for marijuana in a urine test is 15ng/ml, while in hair testing the proposed cutoff is .1pg/mg, or as the TTD puts it, “one-tenth of 1 part per trillion.”
Some types of hair are more likely to retain traces of drugs. People with darker or more porous hair are more likely to test positive, as are those who have artificially colored their hair.
Since hair testing cannot distinguish between drug use and incidental exposure, the TTD claims that it does not fulfil DOT requirements.
Aside from the false positives, the TTD also opposes hair testing since Congress mandated that it can only be used for the FMCSA’s purposes once federal guidelines are created.
The TTD comments also seemed to imply that the data used to promote the efficacy of hair testing came from a source that couldn’t be trusted: The study cited was conducted by a major for-profit hair testing lab.
Signed by Edward Wytkind, President of TTD, the comment concluded that “with jobs on the line, FMCSA must have complete confidence that its drug tests are reliably accurate. Hair testing fails this threshold, and we therefore request that FMCSA deny the Petitioner’s petition.”