Unions Press Chao to Move OSHA on Diacetyl Standard

OSH leaders from three union organizations sent a Sept. 7 letter telling Labor Secretary Elaine Chao that an emergency OSHA standard is needed immediately on diacetyl for microwave popcorn and flavoring manufacturing workers. (Credit for this news goes to the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, SKAPP, www.defendingscience.org, and The Pump Handle, an excellent safety blog, http://thepumphandle.wordpress.com/). SKAPP is based at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

The letter was signed by LaMont Byrd, director of the Teamsters' Safety and Health Department; Jackie Nowell, director of the United Food and Commercial Workers' OSH Office; and Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO's safety and health director. Thirty-five safety and public health deans and professors allowed their names to be listed at the bottom of the letter to show their support. The letter notes that UFCW and the Teamsters petitioned Chao for an emergency temporary standard on July 26, 2006, but OSHA did not respond, that an obstructive lung disease linked to diacetyl has killed at least three workers and injured others, and that Dr. Cecile Rose of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver has reported the case of a 53-year-old man suffering the same disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, apparently from heavy consumption of microwaved popcorn.

"Since our previous letter, additional studies have been published in the scientific literature confirming the evidence we provide last year, and some popcorn manufacturers and flavoring companies have taken steps that show they recognize the severity of the problem," the Sept. 7 letter states. "OSHA, however, appears to be 'missing in action.' Its National Emphasis Program is no substitute for a standard, and it continues to ignore facilities where flavors are manufactured or mixed -- the facilities where most new cases of bronchiolitis obliterans are appearing. It also makes no effort toward protecting diacetyl-exposed workers in other snack food factories. Most important, it fails to define the steps employers must take to protect employees, especially measures necessary to limit workers' exposure to this hazardous chemical."

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