Democrats' Bill Would Force OSHA to Issue Diacetyl Rule

After several months of hearings debating whether OSHA should issue an emergency standard for the food-flavoring agent diacetyl, Democratic congressional leaders have introduced legislation that would require the agency to issue a rule to protect food processing workers from the chemical agent.

California Rep. Lynn Woolsey's new measure would require OSHA within 90 days to issue an interim final standard to minimize workers’ exposure to diacetyl in popcorn and flavor manufacturing plants. Employers would be required to develop a written exposure control plan that would use engineering controls and respirators to protect workers. Employers also would have to implement medical monitoring programs.

If the bill passes, OSHA within 2 years would have to issue a final rule covering all workplaces where workers are exposed to diacetyl – which has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn lung.”

“There are real-life consequences for workers when OSHA drags its feet on issuing health and safety standards – their health and well-being is at risk,” said Woolsey, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the House Education and Labor Committee. “OSHA has known about this hazard for years and has yet to take the necessary steps to address it. Since the administration has no intention of taking action on its own to protect our workers, we will force them to act, and hold them accountable on behalf of the workers.”

OSHA Panned, Cal/OSHA Praised at Hearing

During a subcommittee hearing held in April, lawmakers criticized OSHA's standard-setting process and pointed out that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) was on track to develop a standard for the diacetyl and was conducting inspections at facilities that use diacetyl in their operations.

They also criticized OSHA's national emphasis program targeting microwave popcorn facilities, claiming that the effort wasn't enough and didn't replace enforceable standards. (For more, read “Lawmakers: OSHA Standard Needed for Diacetyl.”)

No OSHA Diacetyl Bulletin Yet

Critics have chastised OSHA for not responding to the diacetyl hazard despite numerous reports and studies alleging that the chemical agent is ridden with deadly properties and is, as a result, harmful to workers.

In an interview with Occupationalhazards.com in July 2006, Ruth McCully, OSHA's director of the Directorate for Science, Technology and Medicine, said that an information bulletin was pending but that the agency has released several educational brochures with recommendations on safety measures such as eye and hand protection as well as environmental monitoring for popcorn makers.

OSHA has yet to release an information bulletin that alerts workers to the potential hazards of diacetyl.

Eric Peoples, a 34-year-old father of two and former employee of a Missouri popcorn plant, testified in front of Congress that he was never informed of the hazards of diacetyl while working at the plant.

“I played by the rules. I worked to support my family. This unregulated industry virtually destroyed my life,” said Peoples, who is awaiting a double lung transplant. “Don’t let it destroy the lives of others.”

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