OSHA To Begin Rulemaking Process on Diacetyl

OSHA announced it will initiate rulemaking proceedings on the microwave popcorn flavoring agent diacetyl, as well as provide workers with material addressing concerns with regards to diacetyl exposure in the workplace.

According to OSHA Chief Edwin Foulke Jr., the actions build upon the National Emphasis Program OSHA announced back in April 2007, which was formed to address the hazards and control measures associated with working in the microwave popcorn industry.

“OSHA's goal is to protect workers from exposure to chemical hazards associated with microwave popcorn manufacturing,” Foulke said. “Our open, transparent regulatory process will seek information and guidance from all stakeholders to gather the best information on the health effects of exposure to diacetyl.”

In addition to starting up the rulemaking proceedings on diacetyl, known to cause a debilitating lung ailment called bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn lung,” OSHA said it will issue a safety and health information bulletin to inform workers about the health effects of being exposed to butter flavorings in microwave popcorn. The bulletin will also provide information on exposure controls that can be used to reduce exposure to butter flavorings and information on applicable OSHA standards.

Likewise, OSHA will provide a Hazard Communication Guidance, which alerts employers, workers, manufacturers and importers about new information related to the health hazards associated with diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl, and provides guidance on how to develop material safety data sheets and hazard warning labels to be in compliance with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard.

One of OSHA's most vocal critics, David Michaels, a George Washington University professor and director of The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP), told OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS he was glad OSHA has taken the initiative to move forward in starting the regulatory process on controlling diacetyl exposures, but noted there was no guarantee that OSHA would issue a final rule on the chemical, at least in the near future.

“They should have called a stakeholder meeting years ago,” Michaels said. “I think one of the reasons why they decided to move forward is that the House is moving forward with legislation that will force them to take action.”

During various Capitol Hill hearings, House leaders chastised OSHA for not taking any action in promulgating a standard that would protect workers from the chemical. In order to impel OSHA to promulgate a standard, House legislators introduced the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act (H.R. 2693), which would require the agency to issue a regulation that mandates engineering controls, work practice controls and respiratory protection to minimize workers' exposure to diacetyl. The bill was passed by the House Education and Labor Committee on June 20. The House of Representatives also passed the bill on on Sept. 26.

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