OSHA Plan to Remove Chemical Warnings Misguided

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Prof. Adam Finkel (609) 258-4828;
Prof. Sidney Shapiro (785) 550-3053
Kate Hornyan [PEER] (202) 265-7337

OSHA Plan to Remove Chemical Warnings Misguided

Manufacturers Only Required to Display Uninformative Legal Exposure Limits

WASHINGTON - The Occupational Safety & Health
Administration is proposing to slash the hazard warning information
that chemical manufacturers must provide to workers, customers and
other users.  According to testimony submitted today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), OSHA's plan would be
a reversal in the right-to-know approach to chemical handling that
would also mislead workers about actual hazards.

At
issue is a proposed rulemaking by OSHA to eliminate the 27-year old
requirement that chemical manufacturers include Threshold Limit Values
(TLVs) from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial
Hygienists, as well as the cancer hazard evaluations from the
International Agency for Research on Cancer, on Safety Data Sheets. 
Under the plan, only the OSHA maximum Permissible Exposure Limits or
PELs would be required.  While originally raised during the Bush
administration, OSHA re-proposed the industry-backed plan on September
30, 2009.

At the OSHA rulemaking hearing today in Washington D.C., Dr. Adam
Finkel, a professor of occupational and environmental health, former
head of the OSHA Directorate of Health Standards Programs and a PEER
Board member, testified that removing the national and international
advisories is "harmful to workers" for a number of reasons, including -

  • Hundreds of chemicals have no PELs.  For these substances, workers would be provided no information;
  • Where
    PELs exist, they are often decades out of outdate and almost always
    higher (i.e., less protective) than the corresponding TLV; and
  • The
    few OSHA PELs established since 1970 do not convey information about
    hazard or risk, because they are constrained by what OSHA believes it
    is economically feasible for all industries to achieve. 

"Diluting the information provided to customers, workers and other
users of toxic chemicals goes against common sense," stated Dr. Finkel,
noting that OSHA has a huge backlog in setting and updating PELs.  "The
notion that OSHA is spending its scarce regulatory time and energy to
weaken protections is truly incredible."  Rather than reducing health
risk information, Dr. Finkel proposed that OSHA create a list of truly
risk-based exposure goals to supplant the TLVs, which it could do in a
small fraction of the time it would take to promulgate binding PELs.

OSHA claims that it is merely trying to conform with global labeling
rules and that manufacturers often disagree with the cancer hazard
evaluations and other advisory information.  Professor Sidney Shapiro
of the Wake Forest University School of Law, on behalf of the Center
for Progressive Reform, took sharp issue with these legal
justifications, arguing that "the goals of the GHS [Globally Harmonized
System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals] are best achieved
by including more-not less-chemical risk information, including
quantitative estimates of hazardous exposure levels."  Both Professors
Finkel and Shapiro suggested that while OSHA risks no credible legal
threat from retaining its existing requirements, it is vulnerable to
court challenge for changing an existing regulation without showing
that doing so will not impose significant risks upon workers.

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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