• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Subcommittee on Toxic Substances, Research and Development Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate
  • Speaker(s)
    Dear, Joseph A.
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.



JULY 13, 1994

Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). I am particularly pleased to be here today with my colleagues from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). We share the goal of reducing exposure to toxic chemicals at their source instead of having to institute control or abatement after exposures have occurred. I work very closely with Lynn Goldman and Linda Rosenstock, and I have instructed OSHA staff to consult with and involve EPA and NIOSH in our regulatory activities at the earliest possible time. We are working in concert to ensure that we make the best possible use of the resources of the three agencies.

OSHA has the responsibility for the safety and health of workers on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 authorizes OSHA to promulgate occupational safety and health standards and to conduct inspections to enforce those standards--by issuing citations, proposing monetary penalties, and requiring employers to abate hazards. The OSH Act also gives OSHA the authority to work with and assist employers and employees in reducing workplace hazards.

Chemical exposure at the workplace is a major cause of illness and disease in America. There are thousands of workers who die each year from illnesses caused by exposure to substances such as asbestos, silica, chromium, and carbon monoxide. The Office of Technology Assessment has reported that as many as 20,000 cancer deaths annually may be caused by workplace exposures.

Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine has written that although precise information on the number of occupational illness cases in America is not available, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 deaths and 350,000 new illnesses are caused by occupational exposure each year. Landrigan also pointed out that a survey undertaken for the National Academy of Sciences found that fewer than 20 percent of industrial chemicals had been adequately evaluated for possible human toxicity. If there is no toxicity data, the risk to exposed workers only becomes known when they become ill. In many cases physicians then cannot assess the health hazards of the material to which their patients have been exposed. Thus there is a pressing need for data on the degree and nature of the hazards posed by industrial chemicals in order to protect workers and prevent disease. As a former EPA official said, "It is time to start putting chemicals to the test, not people."

In developing its standard for Hazard Communication in 1983, OSHA estimated that there were 575,000 chemical products used in American industry. The Hazard Communication Standard has generated a great deal of information for workers concerning the immediate and acute hazards of these chemicals to the extent that their toxicity has been studied. Manufacturers are required to label chemical containers and to develop Material Safety Data Sheets which provide detailed information about the properties of each substance. Employers must provide this information to their employees. As a result of this standard, workers are much better informed about the dangers to which they are exposed than they were ten years ago.

However, there is still insufficient information about the long-term or chronic effects of chemicals used on-the-job. We simply do not know enough about which chemicals at which concentrations cause cancer, heart disease or pulmonary diseases. We know even less about the combined effects produced when workers are exposed to numerous chemicals daily.

Regulating workplace chemicals is not an easy task. It has taken many years to regulate some of the more dangerous substances such as arsenic, asbestos and lead. The "Comprehensive Occupational Safety and Health Reform Act," currently under consideration in the Senate and House, would provide the agency with new tools to address toxic substances and the Administration supports enactment of that bill. TSCA is another vehicle for assisting OSHA in protecting workers.

We share EPA's interest in making TSCA more effective. Data from chemical tests are valuable to OSHA in assessing risk to workers and setting priorities for developing occupational health standards. Better information about the toxicity, potency and number of workers exposed to chemicals in common use would help OSHA in determining which should be addressed first. We have found that the regulations which most successfully withstand court challenges are based on strong data generated by sound studies. More detailed data about chemical exposures would also allow OSHA to direct our compliance officers to the workplaces in which the most hazardous chemicals are located.

TSCA presents OSHA with several statutory responsibilities. Section 4 establishes an Interagency Testing Committee (ITC) to make recommendations to EPA concerning chemicals which should be given priority consideration. By statute, OSHA is one of eight members of the Committee, and a scientist from OSHA's Directorate of Health Standards currently chairs the group. Since TSCA's inception the ITC has met more than 300 times and has recommended tests for 126 chemicals and 43 chemical groups. OSHA has no authority to require chemical testing so the ITC provides a vehicle for OSHA to obtain data which can be used to protect workers through rulemaking and enforcement.

The Committee is now reviewing the available skin absorption data on approximately 600 chemicals submitted by OSHA. OSHA enforces Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) to protect workers from these chemicals. The PELs are based on the results of studies of inhalation of airborne dusts and vapors. In those cases where skin absorption could also be harmful, the chemicals with PELs are assigned "skin designations." OSHA requested that the ITC help identify chemicals which lack sufficient data for OSHA to determine the need for "skin designations" and to use its authority to recommend chemicals for priority testing consideration. To date, the ITC has designated 58 chemicals for dermal absorption testing in its reports to the Administrator of EPA. It is now considering the designation of additional chemicals of interest to OSHA.

Other regulatory agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, also need data on skin absorption. The ITC helps Federal agencies coordinate their data needs and eliminate duplicative and unnecessary testing for the regulated community. In addition, through the ITC, OSHA has access to data gathered on all chemicals considered by the ITC including health effects and exposure information. These data are useful in identifying chemicals which may be of concern in the occupational setting. OSHA can use them to help in assessing risk and prioritizing its standards-setting efforts.

The other major responsibility for OSHA under TSCA is set forth in Section 9. This section provides that when the Administrator of EPA has a reasonable basis to conclude that a chemical may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment and that the risk may be prevented or reduced by another law, the Administrator shall submit a report to the other agency describing the risk. EPA is to request that the agency determine if the risk can be prevented or reduced under the agency's statutory authority. If OSHA or another agency decides that it can prevent or reduce the risk of the hazard referred by EPA, the agency must respond to the EPA within a time period specified by the Administrator. OSHA and EPA coordinate their efforts under section 9 through a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed in February 1986.

Since TSCA was enacted OSHA has received information from EPA on a number of substances, including formal referrals on three chemicals: 1,3 Butadiene; Glycol Ethers; and 4,4 Methylenedianiline (MDA). OSHA has issued Proposed Rules on 1,3 Butadiene and Glycol Ethers and a final standard for MDA.

OSHA has found several problems in using TSCA. First, there is a problem in coordinating OSHA's standards-setting priorities with EPA's priorities under section 9. EPA and OSHA are in the process of improving our coordination so that when a referral is made to OSHA it will be more in line with OSHA's regulatory priorities. We understand that EPA has additional concerns with section 9.

Another difficulty is that described by EPA in previous testimony before this Subcommittee. Last May, EPA noted that the Chemical Testing Program established under TSCA has not been as productive as expected. The number of chemicals which has been tested thus far is in the hundreds. As I have noted there are more than one-half million chemical products in American workplaces. OSHA could use data on many more chemicals than have been tested thus far. Any improvements which would speed up this process or enhance EPA's ability to gather data would improve our ability to assess risk and prioritize standards. This will produce better regulations.

The OSH Act requires that OSHA regulate health hazards to the extent feasible, which the courts have interpreted to mean technological as well as economic feasibility. If section 4 of TSCA could be used to produce information on feasible methods of controlling workplace health hazards, it would help OSHA speed up its rulemaking on toxic substances and provide practical information about current methods used by firms to abate hazards.

A third problem is the limited availability of "Confidential Business Information" (CBI). Company claims of confidentiality on issues such as the amount of a chemical used or manufactured at a facility result in EPA providing OSHA with aggregated chemical data instead of data from individual firms. If OSHA had more precise data on where there are newly emerging hazards presented by chemicals, the agency could avoid visiting those companies where there are no workplace hazards and concentrate on those worksites with the most serious threats to workers' lives. Thus, OSHA and the business community have a mutual interest in having more precise data about workplace chemicals.

Another difficulty is that claims of confidentiality by chemical companies have sometimes included results of toxicity testing. The claim is based upon the concern that one company does not want its competitors to know that it is interested in a chemical to the extent that it would pay for a toxicity test. OSHA certainly does not want to discourage companies from conducting such tests voluntarily, but we also believe that when workers are exposed to a toxic substance OSHA needs adequate data concerning the substance. This data is essential in assisting OSHA to determine, on the basis of scientific testing, which chemicals to regulate and what priority they should receive. We would also like to use CBI data to make more accurate estimates of the costs of proposed regulations in specific types of workplaces.

OSHA and EPA are working to increase their cooperation under TSCA. Since November 1988 representatives from OSHA, NIOSH, EPA, and Mine Safety and Health Administration have met as the "ONE Committee." The purpose of the ONE Committee is to coordinate the research and regulatory activities of the agencies so that there is no duplication and overlap in addressing toxic substances. The committee meets monthly to discuss the status of regulatory investigations, joint projects, and research needs. The four agencies are now looking at ways in which they can work together even earlier during the process of determining which chemicals should be tested under TSCA.

Concurrently, OSHA is working on ways to include EPA at an earlier stage in our rulemaking procedures. We intend to ask EPA to become an ex-officio member of the OSHA planning committee which will prioritize standards-setting activities. This will be an improved vehicle for EPA to suggest hazards or issues which OSHA should address and to provide data for rulemaking.

Working together, OSHA, EPA and NIOSH can make a great deal of progress in regulating toxic substances under our current authorities. Improvements in both the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as well as TSCA would enable us to be even more effective. Workers who are exposed to chemical hazards will benefit as better data are generated concerning the manufacture and use of chemicals in American workplaces and as those data are translated into effective standards. If we know where the hazards are located, OSHA can work with employers and employees to eliminate these dangers.

Better regulation of workplace exposures to chemicals which cause occupational disease will assist us in preventing these diseases and will result in lower health care costs. Improving TSCA can mean improving risk assessment and risk management policies and procedures. The result will be more protective, balanced regulations that will not only protect workers but will save money for the business community.

I am very pleased that you are focusing attention on this issue. I will be happy to answer any questions.