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OSHA Begins Rulemaking Process on Diacetyl

OSHA announced Sept. 25 it will start the process to regulate the flavoring agent diacetyl – found in many microwave popcorn brands – as well as provide workers with material that will address concerns regarding diacetyl exposure in the workplace.

According to OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr., the rulemaking builds upon the National Emphasis Program OSHA announced in April, which addresses 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,” said OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr. “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. That information will allow us to institute effective protections for workers.”

In addition to initiating a rulemaking on diacetyl, OSHA said it will be issuing a safety and health information bulletin that will inform workers about the health effects of being exposed to butter flavorings in microwave popcorn. The bulletin also will provide information on controls that can be used to reduce exposure to butter flavorings and information on applicable OSHA standards.

OSHA also 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 developing material safety data sheets and hazard warning labels that are in compliance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard.

OSHA Critic: Glad Agency is Moving Forward

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 he was glad OSHA has taken the initiative and is moving forward with regulations to control 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 [U.S. House of Representatives] is moving forward with legislation that will force them to take action. However, for the good of the workers, I am glad that they decided to move forward."

During various Capitol Hill hearings, House leaders chastised OSHA for not having taken 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 and will be voted by the House of Representatives later this week. For more on the bill, read "House Labor Committee Approves Diacetyl Bill.".

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) already has taken strides in responding to the diacetyl threat to workers. The agency said it is developing regulations for the use of diacetyl in the state, and the new regulations are expected by October. The state currently is working on passing a bill that would ban the chemical agent altogether.

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