NIOSH Proposes RELs for Diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione

"We know these flavoring compounds can pose a great risk for workers who may be exposed on the job, causing serious and irreversible damage to their lungs," said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, M.D., MPH.

NIOSH has released recommended exposure limits for diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione, which are widely used food flavoring compounds that have been linked to decreased lung function in exposed workers. The RELs were published Oct. 31 in a document titled Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Diacetyl and 2,3-Pentanedione.

"Flavorings used in food products are often complex mixtures of natural and manmade compounds. While considered safe to eat, these compounds might still be harmful to breathe in the forms and amounts to which workers in the food and chemical industries may be exposed," according to the agency. "To protect workers, NIOSH recommends a REL of 5 ppb for diacetyl as a time-weighted average (TWA) for up to 8 hours/day during a 40-hour work week. To further protect against effects of short-term exposures, NIOSH recommends a short-term exposure limit for diacetyl of 25 parts per billion for a 15-minute time period. Additionally, NIOSH recommends keeping exposure to 2,3-pentanedione below 9.3 ppb as an 8-hour TWA during a 40-hour work week. This REL is slightly higher than the REL for diacetyl due to analytical method limitations. NIOSH also recommends a short-term exposure limit for 2,3-pentanedione of 31 parts per billion during a 15-minute period."

"We know these flavoring compounds can pose a great risk for workers who may be exposed on the job, causing serious and irreversible damage to their lungs," said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, M.D., MPH. "This Criteria Document reflects not only our review of the science and understanding of the hazard, but also outlines our recommendations for controlling workplace exposures to these compounds. With the release of this document, NIOSH is taking an important step in protecting the health and safety of all those who may be exposed to these compounds while on the job."

The document summarizes current scientific knowledge and proposes measures such as engineering controls for curbing work-related exposures to both compounds, based on the current state of knowledge.

NIOSH already conducted numerous studies, reviewed the scientific literature on exposures, toxicology, engineering controls, and subsequently conducted a quantitative risk assessment before issuing the document, which it said has undergone a rigorous scientific process including peer, stakeholder, and public review, and NIOSH continues to collect information through its Health Hazard Evaluation program for companies where workers may be exposed to the compounds.

For more information and resources to reduce the risk of obliterative bronchiolitis associated with occupational exposures to flavorings, visit NIOSH's topic page on flavorings-related lung disease.

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