News Release USDL: 96-94
Tuesday, February 20, 1996
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151
Employer-Union Pact In Synthetic Rubber Industry
May Improve Worker Protection Against 1,3-Butadiene
An agreement between labor and
management in the synthetic rubber
industry may improve protection
against a cancer-causing air
contaminant for thousands of workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) is in the final
stages of revising its standard on
1,3-butadiene (BD), and will now
reopen discussion of the exposure
limit due to the labor-management
The agreement was between the United
Steelworkers of America (USWA), which
merged with the United Rubber Workers
(URW); the International Chemical Workers
Union (ICWU), and representatives of the
International Institute of Synthetic
Rubber Producers (IISRP).
As a result of the agreement, OSHA
will reopen the record on 1,3-butadiene
for 30 days to receive comments. If OSHA
revises its standard in accordance with
the terms of this agreement, the
permissible exposure limit (PEL) for
BD will drop by a factor of 1000, from
the current 1000 parts per million (ppm)
limit to a new PEL of 1 ppm.
Although OSHA was not a party to
the negotiations, Assistant Secretary
of Labor for Occupational Safety and
Health Joseph A. Dear said OSHA is
"very pleased that the major parties
affected by BD have joined together
to reach consensus on so many of the
key aspects of the standard."
"Consensual rulemaking isn't
always appropriate or efficient,
but this negotiation could result
in a triple-win situation," Dear
said. "The industry could get
predictable limits requiring
upgrading of technology without
threatening productivity or
profitability. Workers' exposure
to a potent carcinogen could drop,
by orders of magnitude in some cases.
And OSHA may be able to promulgate a
final standard swiftly, allowing us
to effectively leverage limited
Michael Wright, USWA director of
health, safety and environment, said,
"Even though OSHA was not directly
involved in the negotiations, the
agency was critical to our success.
OSHA made it clear that it would go
ahead (with a final rule) without us.
It kept the pressure on."
The current permissible exposure
limit (PEL) is 1,000 parts per million
(ppm). Current worker exposures are
generally well below that level.
In 1990, after studies in mice showed
BD to be a potent carcinogen producing
tumors at multiple sites, OSHA proposed
to lower the PEL to 2 ppm. The animal
studies OSHA intended to rely on were
challenged, even though they were
repeated over the intervening years.
But in mid-1995, preliminary results
of an unpublished epidemiologic study
of effects on humans raised the
possibility that cancer rates in
BD-exposed workers were elevated.
OSHA is currently evaluating the
study to determine whether, in
fact, the human and animal data
are quantitatively similar and
how they can be used to assess
occupational health risk of BD
OSHA is now moving aggressively
to update its risk assessment and
accelerate promulgation of a
The agreement between the unions
and employer representatives would
reduce the permissible exposure limit
(PEL) to 1 ppm as an eight-hour
time-weighted average (TWA) and
practice controls would have to be
used in most cases when exposures
exceed the action level (AL) of
0.5 ppm TWA.
The agreement also calls for
the employer to institute an
"exposure goal program" that
would attempt to limit exposures
to below the action level through
specific engineering controls.
Adam Finkel, OSHA director of
health standards programs, said,
"OSHA had recognized for some time
the desirability of achieving a more
protective standard than our 1990
proposal, if possible. This agreement
is particularly welcome because it
could enable us to get twice as much
protection---in many instances four
times as much because the 'exposure
goal program' feature would push
most workplaces below the
0.5 ppm action level."
If OSHA incorporates the 'exposure
goal program' in its final rule, it
would be the first OSHA health standard
with such a technology-based
provision, Finkel said.
The agreement also addresses
provisions on exposure monitoring,
use and care of respirators, medical
surveillance and written performance-oriented
programs such as a leak prevention
program and a ventilation
A notice reopening the record will
be published soon in the Federal Register.
OSHA hopes to publish a final rule
by early summer.