OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

May 10, 1991




Subject:            Regulations For Cotton Waste Operations

This is in response to your memorandum of February 11, requesting that the permissible exposure limits (PELs) and the parts of cotton dust standard (29 CFR 1910.1043) applying to cotton waste operations be clarified.

Waste processing:

Waste processing consists of garnetting and waste recycling. The definition at 29 CFR 1910.1043(b) for waste processing lists sorting, blending, cleaning, and willowing as examples of waste recycling, but waste recycling also includes all operations involved in manufacturing yarn from waste cotton, such as, spinning and spooling.

The PEL for waste processing is 1 mg/M(3) as given in Table Z-1-A in 29 CFR 1910.1000. The sections of the expanded health standard for cotton dust (29 CFR 1910.1043) that apply to waste processing are 29 CFR 1910.1043(h) Medical surveillance, 29 CFR 1910.1043(k)(2)-(4) Recordkeeping -- Medical records, and Appendices B, C, and D.

Cotton waste operations not included in waste processing:

This category consists of operations that utilize waste cotton after it has been processed. Bedding and upholstery assembly are examples of these types of operations.

The PEL for this category are the values for particulates not otherwise regulated as given in Table Z-1-A in 29 CFR 1910.1000, (5 mg/M(3) - respirable fraction; 15 mg/M(3) - total dust). None of 29 CFR 1910.1043 applies to this category.




February 11, 1991




                   Directorate of Compliance Programs

FROM:               R. DAVIS LAYNE 
                   Regional Administrator

SUBJECT:            PEL for Yarn Manufactured from Waste Cotton

On January 8, 1991, the Birmingham area office initiated an inspection at Wehadkee Yarn Mill located in Rock Hill, Alabama. The company utilizes waste cotton from other textile mills to manufacture yarn (ending in a spinning operation) that is used to make the heads of mops. The issue is whether this operation is fully covered by the cotton dust standard (1910.1043).

Gail Brinkerhoff and Susan Harwood have informed FSO and Technical Support verbally that the cotton dust standard PELs (1910.1043) do not apply to any operations using waste cotton. They indicated that all the comments on the draft OSHA cotton dust standard in 1985 and all of the verbage in the preamble of the standard infer this. Accordingly, Wehadkee is required to comply with the 1910.1000 cotton dust PEL (1,000 micrograms per cubic meter).

We feel that a literal reading of 1910.1043(b) contradicts this interpretation and, therefore, a modification of the standard or, at least, a field interpretation be written to clarify what OSHA's position is on the applicability of 1910.1043(b) to all waste cotton operations. The standard 1910.1043(b) defines waste processing operations as "waste recycling (sorting, blending, cleaning, and willowing) and garnetting." The preamble to the standard states, "OSHA has concluded it is appropriate to narrow the definition of waste processing to the operations of waste recycling (sorting, blending, cleaning, and willowing) and garnetting" (50 FR 51138, December 13, 1985). A reasonable interpretation might conclude that the definition of waste processing operations at 1910.1043(b) would be limited to operations that sort, blend, clean, or garnet waste cotton. Thus, yarn manufacturers using waste cotton in spinning operations for example would not be covered by this definition and, therefore, would not be regulated by the cotton exposure limits and all other provisions of 1910.1043.

The agency's position regarding this issue could affect a number of establishments nationwide. We would appreciate your direct response to us.

Attachment: Patrick Tyson Letter

February 11, 1991

Mr. Patrick R. Tyson
Constangy, Brooks, & Smith
230 Peachtree Street, N.W.
Suite 2400
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-1557

Dear Mr. Tyson:

Thank you for your letter dated January 29, 1991, requesting an interpretation of the cotton dust standard. Your letter has been forwarded to the National Office, Directorate of Compliance Programs for response. We will forward you a copy of their response once received.

We appreciate your interest in Occupational Safety and Health. If you have any questions, please contact Cynthia P. Wolfe, Assistant Regional Administrator for Technical Support at (404) 347-2281.


Regional Administrator

January 29, 1991

Mr. Davis Layne
Regional Administrator
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
1375 Peachtree Street
5th Floor
Atlanta, GA 30303

Dear Davis:

I want to express my appreciation for the courtesy and professionalism displayed by you, Russ Dugger, Ray Finney and others in your office with respect to the handling of the controversy regarding the application of the cotton dust standard (29 CFR 1910.1043) to operations involving waste cotton. My client has been operating under an interpretation of the standard which had been provided by the National Office to ELB Monitor. ELB has been assisting my client for many years with respect to their employee health monitoring programs. The company was quite concerned when it appeared that a different interpretation was to be applied, because a number of decisions regarding significant capital expenditures had been made based upon the earlier interpretation.

All the confusion appears to be resolved now but, by this letter, I would like to respectfully request a written interpretation. Specifically, I would like an interpretation that the spinning of waste cotton, as well as all other operations involving waste cotton, is subject to the permissible exposure level established in 29 CFR 1910.1000, and that the only provisions of 29 CFR 1910.1043 which apply are those regarding medical surveillance and monitoring.

Thank you again for your assistance in this matter and please convey my thanks to Russ and Ray. Please call me if you have any questions or if I can be of any assistance.


Patrick R. Tyson