Union Wants Emergency Standard for Popcorn Flavoring in California

After petitioning federal OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard for the popcorn flavoring agent diacetyl on July 26, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) turned to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board on Aug. 23 and asked it to do the same.

UFCW, in collaboration with the California Labor Federation, is petitioning the standards board to require employers to control airborne exposure to diacetyl and to ensure that all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical are provided with air-purifying respirators. The union also is asking that workers' safety and health be monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.

The petition also demands that Cal/OSHA immediately issue a bulletin to all employers and employees potentially exposed to diacetyl outlining the dangers of the chemical. Cal/OSHA is being asked to conduct inspections and begin rulemaking proceedings to establish a permanent standard that will put an end to this tragic epidemic and protect workers from exposure to all flavorings.

Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical that has been allegedly connected to a potentially fatal lung disease. There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as "popcorn workers' lung," or bronchiolitis obliterans a severe, disabling and often-fatal lung disease experienced by factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl.

According to UFCW, several food industry employees in California have developed devastating lung problems after being exposed to diacetyl in the workplace. There currently are no OSHA standards requiring exposure to diacetyl and other flavorings be controlled.

According to Cal/OSHA, there are 16 to 20 plants producing flavorings in the state of California. Thousands of California food-processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and dog food that use these chemicals.

Along with the petition sent to federal OSHA in July was a letter from 42 occupational safety scientists, including a former OSHA director and five former top officials from OSHA, EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services, who agreed there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to issue regulations. (For more information on the petition sent to federal OSHA please read "OSHA Urged to Issue Worker Safety Standard for Popcorn Flavoring.")

A call made to Cal/OSHA was not returned.

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