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USDL: 97-06
Thursday, January 9, 1997
Contact: Susan Hall Fleming, (202) 219-8151

OSHA Orders Reduced Exposure To Methylene Chloride

Will Cut Cancer Risk Up to 97% for 237,500 Workers

Proposed Standard Modified To Reduce Impact On Small Businesses

Cancer risks can be cut 97% for workers who use the solvent methylene chloride under a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard announced today. It will be phased in over three years to lessen the impact on small businesses.

About 237,500 workers use methylene chloride (MC) to strip paint, clean metal parts and produce foam cushions. The new workplace limits will decrease exposures to this solvent by up to 20-fold.

"With the new standard we expect to save 34 lives a year," said Joseph A. Dear, who heads the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). "Measures are already in place to protect consumers from this hazardous chemical, and it is time to protect workers as well."

The lower limits would elminate 31 deaths annually resulting from long-term exposure. Three additional deaths each year from short-term overexposures will be prevented by other measures in the standard. Risks of chronic central nervous system effects and cardiac damage (resulting from MC metabolism to carbon monoxide) as well as eye, skin and mucous membrane irritation will also drop.

OSHA has worked diligently to minimize the impact on the many small businesses that use MC and to provide guidance to employers who need help in complying with the standard, Dear said.

"We are giving small firms up to three times as long to meet the standard's requirements as larger firms, and we are planning a series of workshops for next spring to help firms understand what they need to do," he said. The agency also has developed an MC compliance guide (available on the Internet tomorrow and in print next month) and is working on a series of engineering and work practice fact sheets to assist employers in affected industries.

Methylene chloride, one of the most common organic solvents, is used at nearly 92,000 sites. Workers typically are exposed during degreasing or paint stripping operations, while using ink solvents or when working on construction remodeling or renovation projects.

The new OSHA standard includes an eight-hour time-weighted average permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 25 parts methylene chloride per million parts air (ppm), a 15-minute short-term exposure level (STEL) of 125 ppm and a 12.5 ppm action level. Other provisions cover employee training, medical surveillance, recordkeeping, hazard communication and exposure monitoring. Many provisions have been modified from OSHA's 1991 MC proposal to make it easier and less costly for small businesses. (See the chart following news release.) OSHA's previous standard, dating back to the 1970's, included a 500 ppm PEL with a 1000 ppm ceiling limit. These limits were set based on acute toxicity affecting the central nervous system.

Some companies will choose to install local exhaust ventilation to reduce employee exposures, cover tanks when MC is used, or provide different hand tools so workers will not have to work in extreme proximity to the tanks. Others may opt to substitute other chemicals for methylene chloride. In any case, Dear promised, OSHA will work with employers to find the best controls to fit their circumstances and protect their workers.

OSHA's move to lower MC exposures is in keeping with the Food and Drug Administration's ban on MC in cosmetics (primarily hairspray), the Consumer Product Safety Commission's program to promote voluntary hazard labeling for the chemical and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's plan to ban MC use in removing lead paint from residences. Major MC manufacturers themselves already seek to keep MC exposures well below the new OSHA action level, and the United Auto Workers and the automobile industry have replaced MC in auto manufacturing operations where it was once used as a paint stripper. In addition, methylene chloride is no longer used in coffee decaffeination because manufacturers have determined it poses too great a risk to consumers.

"The new OSHA standard is based on the most thorough and sophisticated quantitative risk assessment ever conducted on this substance," said Adam M. Finkel, OSHA's director of health standards. "We made use of new data supplied by industry suggesting that workers are less sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of MC than laboratory mice. Yet workers exposed above 25 ppm over a working lifetime face an intolerably high cancer risk; at daily exposures of 50 ppm, nearly one worker in 150 could get cancer," Finkel said.

Costs for the standard will average $101 million each year or about $426 per exposed worker. Compliance costs for most industries represent less than three percent of profits. Firms in furniture refinishing, polyurethane foam manufacturing and construction can cover compliance costs with price increases of two percent or less. Many firms that substitute another chemical will incur little or no compliance costs. The standard includes two appendices that provide detailed information on the chemical, its health risks, suitable controls and guidance for medical surveillance. A third appendix, developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, offers guidance to furniture strippers in a question and answer format.

In 1985, the United Auto Workers petitioned OSHA for an emergency temporary standard for MC in light of National Toxicology Program findings demonstrating that methylene chloride was carcinogenic in mice and rats. OSHA denied the petition but in 1986 issued guidelines for controlling exposure to MC and on Nov. 26, 1986, published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for MC.

The agency proposed lower exposure limits for MC on Nov. 7, 1991 and received 108 comments in response. Hearings were held in Washington in September 1992 and in San Francisco in October 1992. Comments closed March 15, 1993.

OSHA reopened the record on March 11, 1994, to receive input regarding engineering controls for furniture stripping and foam blowing operations. Comments on this issue closed April 25, 1994. The agency again reopened the record on Oct. 25, 1995, to obtain input on studies submitted by the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance (HSIA) addressing the use of animal data to estimate human cancer risk from MC exposure. The final comment period closed Dec. 29, 1995.

OSHA's compliance guide for MC will be available on the Internet ( under "What's New" tomorrow and specific industry fact sheets will be placed there soon. Single, free printed copies of the compliance guide can be ordered from OSHA Publications at (202) 219-4667 and should be available next month.

The 23 states and two territories with their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plans must adopt a comparable methylene chloride standard within six months. These jurisdictions included Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut (state and local government employees only), Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York (state and local government employees only), North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, the Virgin Islands, Washington, and Wyoming. Until state standards are adopted, federal OSHA will provide interim enforcement assistance for MC.

The methylene chloride standard is scheduled for publication in the Jan. 10 Federal Register.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Attached is a chart showing changes made since the proposal to limit the impact of the standard on small businesses. A detailed fact sheet providing highlights of the new standard is available by fax. Call 202-219-8151 to provide your fax number and receive the fact sheet.)

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.

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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