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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 agreement.
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 agency resources."
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 exposure.
OSHA is now moving aggressively to update its risk assessment and accelerate promulgation of a final standard.
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 maintenance program.
A notice reopening the record will be published soon in the Federal Register. OSHA hopes to publish a final rule by early summer.
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