July 17, 2012 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 6Comment

You’d think the chemical giants Dow, DuPont, and the 160 other firms who are members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) would expect the association’s lobbyists to get their facts straight when moaning to Congress about federal regulations.  Last week the ACC claimed that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was moving forward with a regulation on combustible dust.  They claimed that the “proposed rule will only add onerous requirements to existing regulations.”  The ACC also made the ludicrous claim that OSHA had not “met its statutory obligation for rulemaking.”   Those statements are just plain wrong.

To start with, OSHA hasn’t even proposed a regulation to address the hazards of combustible dust.  Despite dust explosions and deaths at the Hoeganaes Corp in TNAL Solutions in New Cumberland, WV, Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth, GA, and other worksites, the Obama Administration has shown no sense of urgency to address the hazard with a regulation.  In fact, the Labor Department’s most recent regulatory agenda doesn’t even include an entry on combustible dust.  The hazard was listed on its Spring 2011 agenda as simply a “pre-rule” activity, but by the time the Fall 2011 agenda rolled around (published in January 2012) combustible dust had been ditched from OSHA’s list of priority rules.  If a topic for a possible worker safety rule isn’t even on the Labor Department’s regulatory agenda, ACC is just blowing smoke.

This most recent regulatory fear mongering came last week from ACC President (and former Democratic congressman) Cal Dooley in a letter to Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Dooley stated:

“I am writing in response to your May 16, 2012 letter regarding existing and proposed regulations that negatively impact the economy and job growth and maintenance in the U.S. chemicals industry.   …We share your concern about the negative impact of recent and new regulatory proposals on the nascent economic recovery and American jobs.”

In its letter, ACC raises objections about several proposed rules and adds to its list two risk assessment processes that aren’t regulations at all (i.e., EPA’s IRIS and the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens.)   As it wraps up its 6-page litany of complaints, ACC throws in its OSHA example.  It reads as if someone was egging ACC on, saying: “hey, can’t you come up with an example from OSHA?”  So ACC makes the claim that OSHA is working on a combustible dust regulation. 

If ACC lobbyists had done their homework (or if they’d actually wanted to be truthful) they’d know that OSHA has pretty much shut the door on a combustible dust rule anytime in the near future.  (And according to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office, the near future in OSHA-time is about 7 years.)  In a statement provided to the Center for Public Integrity, an OSHA spokesperson said in May 2012 that with resources available for rulemaking initiatives, OSHA is focusing its efforts on broad topics.  Hazard-specific regulations, like a rule on combustible dust, just don’t warrant the agency’s limited resources.

The chemical industry lobbyist’s lame OSHA example is bad enough, but their other assertion is just plain ridiculous:

“To date, OSHA has not met its statutory obligation for rulemaking by demonstrating that combustible dust poses a significant risk in the chemical manufacturing sector.”

If OSHA hasn’t even proposed a rule, the agency would have no reason to demonstrate yet that the hazard poses a significant risk.  That would be like asking a chemical manufacturer to demonstrate a new compound is the greatest invention since sliced bread while the concept is still a doodle in some scientist’s notebook.

This Thursday, July 19, Chairman Darrell Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Oversight of Regulatory Impediments to Job Creation: Job Creators Still Buried by Red Tape.”  I’m sure the Chairman will make full use of the letters complaining about federal regulations that he solicited from the ACC and other business trade associations.  I’m going to put my faith in Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the Committee, to defend government rules that protect public health, safety and the environment.  I hope the Maryland lawmaker and his level-headed colleagues will clear the air of the smoke blowing and take Republicans to task for their sky-is-falling claims about regulatory burdens.


6 thoughts on “US chemical manufacturers just blowing smoke about burdensome worker safety regulations

  1. Haven’t the dangers of combustible dust been known since, say, the invention of milling? And isn’t it cheaper to do something about the combustible dust than to have to re-build your plant and loose business while you wait for said new plant?

    If I were an insuerer for these companies I’d have second and third thoughts before writing a policy. “Hmm, doesn’t care about combustible dust. That’s going to be a problem. Jack up the rates and write and exclusionary clause!”

  2. The ACC also has launched an attack on new standards for buildings. See Bill Walsh’s second installment about this, which starts: Ramping up its assault on the US Green Building Council’s initiative to offer credits for reducing toxic chemicals in LEED®-certified buildings (see Chemical Giants Target The USGBC: Part 1), the American Chemistry Council this week announced the formation of the American High Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC). (See the full story at http://www.healthybuilding.net/news/120720-chemical-giants-target-usgbc-part-2.html)

  3. Thank you, Dr. Monforton, for your interesting and disturbing report. The concept of moral obligations to protect people from dangers they cannot see or undertand is not new. It is in the Bible: “you shall not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Lev. 19:14). From ancient days, this commandment was understood to express a broad principle. It would certainly apply to having people work in a space with unsafe levels of combustible dust.
    While the public waits for OSHA to issue a rule on this, ministers of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths (which recognize the authority of this teaching) should be preaching its message to congregants who are members of the American Chemistry Council.
    Also, the ACC should get staff who do their homework before they embarass that lobby and the industry.

  4. Dr. Stern,
    Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a day-long, roundtable discussion with key members of ACC along with their faith-community leaders to discuss Lev. 19:14 and other moral tenets? I know you for one would be game and would make an excellent moderator!

  5. My favorite in disputing is Deuteronomy 22:8 When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.

  6. I wonder if some of these anti-regulation lawmakers and business people would still label safety regulations burdensome and unnecessary if we presented them with these Bible verses? One anti-worker safety provision that is in the House Appropriations bill for FY 2013 would prohibit OSHA from enforcing its fall protection standard in residential roofing projects. Maybe you should ask the author and supporter of this rider if they are familiar with Deuteronomy 22:8? Start with Ried Ribble’s office.

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