April 30, 2009 The Pump Handle 6Comment

Labor Secretary Solis announced today the next step in OSHA’s effort to propose a rule to protect workers exposed to the butter-flavoring agent diacetyl.  The Small Business Administration and OSHA identified 13 “small-entity representatives” (SERs, defined by SBA as companies with 500 or fewer employees nationwide) to serve on the panel which allows them to review the proposed regulatory text and regulatory analysis, and make recommendations for changes to the draft proposed rule before it is published in the Federal Register for the standard public comment period.   In OSHA’s letter to the SERs, the agency indicated that it expected to hold the teleconference panel meeting during the week of May 18.  The SERs invited to participate in this pre-proposal review include: 

The 13 invited SERs received a package to review, which included the draft regulatory text options (28-page PDF), regulatory flexibility analysis (73-page PDF ) and discussion issues (4-page PDF).  The firms were notified that the teleconference discussion will take about 3 hours and will be open to the public.  As I noted in a March 17 post on THP entitled “OSHA’s New Direction on Diacetyl“, this will be the first SBREFA panel in which SBA and OSHA will open the SBREFA discussion to the public.

After the SERs provide their oral and written comments, OSHA has 60 days to prepare a report summarizing the SBREFA panel’s work.  The report becomes part of the rulemaking record and is supposed to inform OSHA’s policy decisions.  If OSHA staff and leadership proceed on a fast track, a proposed rule on diacetyl could appear in the Federal Register [I predict] as early November 2009.

Kudos! to Jordan Barab and the staff at OSHA (i.e., Dorothy Dougherty’s and Bob Burt’s shop) for demonstrating that when given a chance, they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH is an assistant research professor at the GWU School of Public Health.  She and David Michaels [no relation to the SER David Michael & Company name above] wrote  “Scientific evidence in the regulatory system: Manufacturing uncertainty and the demise of the formal regulatory system” (J Law & Policy, 2005) in which they used OSHA’s response to diacetyl from 2000 to 2008 as an example of public health regulatory system failure.

6 thoughts on “OSHA’s small biz list for diacetyl rule

  1. Kudos is an understatement- the amount of blood and sweat put into this must be astronomical. To all the activists in the USW, UFCW, and every other labor union and cosh group who made sure we have got this far deserve a huge thank you from the nation: you’re slowly restoring my faith in the public health system, the government and the people of this country. You’re, for lack of a better term, brave warriors;)

    Thanks to everyone. Setting the bar high for good news for the next 8 years;)

  2. The safety of substitutes is definitely an issue. Short of requiring companies to fully test all of their chemicals for safety before using them (which is a good goal, but far off), better monitoring programs are key, and OSHA needs to respond quickly to reports of problems.

  3. Shulquist,
    I agree that the public health community (including OSHA and NIOSH) need information from employers on what compounds they are using as substitutes for diacetyl. This is definitely something that OSHA should be asking when it proposes its rule.

  4. In her 2008 publication, “Respiratory Toxicologic Pathology of Inhaled Diacetyl in Sprague-Dawley Rats”, Dr. A Hubbs states, “The nose had the greatest sensitivity to diacetyl. Ultrastructural changes in the tracheal epithelium included whorling and dilation of the rough endoplasmic reticulum, chromatin clumping beneath the nuclear membrane, vacuolation, increased inter-cellular space and foci of denuded basement membrane. Edema and hemorrhage extended into the lamina propria. These findings are consistent with the conclusion that inhaled diacetyl is a respiratory hazard.” She is describing, in scientific jargon, the incredible necrotic (cell-killing) behavior of this compound.

    This description is also talking about a chemical that has, until now, been classified as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) compound. No safety testing or regulation of it had been done prior to the numerous lung disease incidents that occurred in the microwave popcorn facilities. This should be sufficient evidence that nothing is “safe” until proven and toxicologic, mutagenic, and teratologic evaluation should be part of every compound we routinely use. The public will constantly be under this type of threat until we demand effective safety precautions be taken with our food, drugs, etc. The GRAS classification should be eliminated.

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