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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 http://www.osha.gov.
July 3, 1997
The Honorable Thad Cochran
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2402
Dear Senator Cochran:
Thank you for your letter of April 9, 1997 on behalf of your constituent, Mr. Bob Smith, regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Methylene Chloride (MC) Standard. We wish to assure you that OSHA is aware of the concerns raised by Mr. Smith regarding the impacts of the MC rule and has addressed these concerns in the preamble to the final rule and the Final Economic Analysis. We would like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the misimpressions being raised about the risks of MC exposure and the methods available to reduce those risks for the U.S. workforce. Please accept our apology for the delay in this response.
The OSHA MC rulemaking was initiated in 1986 when the Agency published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in response to a petition from the United Auto Workers (joined by several other unions) to regulate MC because it was shown to be carcinogenic in laboratory animals. In 1991, OSHA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which included a proposed 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 25 ppm, a short-term exposure limit of 125 ppm and ancillary provisions covering exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, regulated areas, etc. In 1992, the Agency convened informal public hearings on the proposed standard in Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA. In addition, the rulemaking record was opened several times to receive public comment on feasibility and risk assessment issues.
The final MC rule (published in the Federal Register on January 10, 1997 (62 FR 1493)) is based on careful evaluation of all available information, including information submitted to the record by the polyurethane foam fabricating industry. OSHA's rulemaking record (now in excess of 48,000 pages of information) contains extensive data regarding the feasibility of compliance with the final rule, including information on substitutes for MC, modifications to control or process equipment and alterations in work practices. Many of these feasible methods of compliance are as simple and common-sensical as providing adequate ventilation, or covering tanks and containers when not in use. Data in the record indicates that the final MC regulation is feasible in all affected industries, including the polyurethane foam fabricating industry. OSHA must base its findings on its rulemaking record and must promulgate a regulation that is technologically and economically feasible for all affected industries.
OSHA has determined that the final MC standard is feasible in all affected industries without the need for substituting to alternative chemicals. It is not OSHA's intention to force industries to abandon MC, nor to promote the use of more flammable substitutes for MC.
However, the Agency recognizes that some employers may choose to substitute another chemical for MC for a particular application rather than implement engineering or work practice controls to reduce worker exposure to MC vapors. OSHA recognizes that the employer would need to evaluate many factors in making a decision to substitute away from MC, including potential impact on product quality, hazards of the substitute and costs of implementing substitute technology. The hazards of any chemical substance under consideration must be evaluated by the employer, as required under the Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).
Thank you for bringing your concerns, and those expressed by your constituent, to my attention. Your interest in occupational safety and health is greatly appreciated.
Acting Assistant Secretary
March 17, 1997
The Honorable Thad Cochran
326 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Cochran:
MPI, Foam, inc. is a manufacturer of flexible slab polyurethane foam used primarily in the furniture, bedding, packaging, and automotive industries. It is part of the Foam Plastics Division of Leggett & Platt, Inc. The manufacturing plant located in Coldwater employs 135 people and has been operating continuously in the same location since 1972.
Methylene chloride is used as a blowing agent in our foam manufacturing and as a carrier for the glue in our fabrication department Methylene chloride has been used safely in industry for over 50 years.
The new OSHA rule regarding the use of and exposure to methylene chloride, lowers the Permissible Exposure Limit from 500 ppm for an eight hour TWA (Time Weighted Average) to 25 ppm. The regulation will be financially devastating to our business and our employees. If this OSHA rule stands, we will be forced to use alternative solvents that are highly flammable, very dangerous and not as effective for the work performed. The additional cost of upgrading equipment to meet explosion proof standards, or the ventilation requirements required to achieve methylene chloride levels lower than the 25 ppm levels could amount to a significant increase in costs. It could quite easily result in the elimination of slabstock manufacturers by lower cost molded products.
To insure our jobs in the future, I strongly urge you to co-sponsor Congressman Roger Wicker's resolution of disapproval in the House of Representatives to overturn this unfair and unsafe OSHA rule on methylene chloride.