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Congress mandates study of illness caused by workers bringing home contaminated clothing; legislation could ultimately result in greater demand for disposable protective apparel.

legislation could ultimately result in greater demand for disposable protective apparel

Congress has recently passed legislation that addresses the issue of family illness caused by contaminated protective apparel brought home by workers. The bill was introduced by Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT) and was passed as an amendment to funding legislation for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

If this bill becomes law, it could eventually lead to federal regulations preventing millions of workers from taking their work clothes home with them - a practice that is common in many industries, especially those where employers require workers to launder their own work clothes. Not only would regulations restricting this practice be beneficial for the health of millions of Americans, they could significantly increase demand for single-use protective apparel.

As with most legislative efforts, however, final action may not take place until the end of the decade. Even then, it is impossible to predict what action will eventually be taken on the issue.

The Problem

As passed by Congress, the Workers' Family Protection Act of 1991 is intended to protect employees and their families from contaminants transferred from the workplace on workers' clothes. While it is not known how frequently these home contaminations take place, the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources (the committee with jurisdiction over the bill) has documented recent occurrences in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, New York, Maryland and Vermont.

Some instances cited by the committee involve substances such as asbestos, lead dust, mercury, radioactive materials and other harmful substances (even incinerated torpedo fuel is listed) being brought into workers' homes. The committee cites a list of family illnesses and several deaths that have been directly linked to contaminants brought home on clothing. But the committee believes that the instances noted are anecdotal and that more study is needed to determine how widespread this problem is and what steps should be taken to address it.

The Legislation

To supply the missing information, the bill would establish a "scientifically defensible strategy" for investigating home contaminations and the risks these contaminations present to workers and their families. This strategy is based on the coordinated efforts of a handful of government agencies.

According to the committee, there are five different federal agencies that play a role in preventing or responding to incidents of home contamination: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for preventing home contaminations; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees cleanups in homes where contaminations have occurred; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) evaluates the health effects of these contaminations on workers; the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) evaluates the health effects on family members; and the Department of Energy is responsible for addressing all aspects of any incident involving radionuclides.

Since these five agencies are already involved in the issue, the bill requires that representatives from each join together and conduct a study to evaluate "the potential for, the prevalence of, and the issues related to" home contaminations. Elements of the study are to include a review of past instances where contaminations have occurred due to work clothes being brought home; an evaluation of all statutory, regulatory and voluntary industrial hygiene guidelines that are in place to prevent these occurrences and identification of the role of federal and state agencies in responding to incidents of home contamination.

In addition, the study is to include an evaluation of the effectiveness of "normal" house cleaning and laundry procedures for removing hazardous materials from homes and clothing.

Not only does the bill require this study, it also mandates the establishment of a task force to review the data contained in the study. Based on this review, the task force members are to determine what additional information, if any, is necessary. Task force members are to be appointed by the Director of NIOSH. There are to be no more than 15 members of the task force and they are to be selected so that they represent workers, industry, scientists, industrial hygienists, the National Research Council and government agencies.

Once the study has been conducted and reviewed by the task force (and any additional information is developed by the task force), the study will be published for public comment and subject to peer review. The bill allows up to four years for this entire process to take place.

Based on the information collected by the agencies and reviewed by the task force, the bill requires that the Secretary of Labor determine if current regulations and education programs are sufficient to address the risks of home contaminations or if additional regulations are needed. Either way, the Secretary is required to justify his or her conclusions in a report to Congress.

If the Secretary determines that additional regulations are needed, the bill allows up to three years for the development of those regulations. This means that the maximum time allowable for fully implementing the bill would be seven years - four years to develop the information needed to determine if regulations are necessary and then three years to develop those regulations.

Bill Status

As noted earlier, this bill was amended into the 1993 funding legislation for the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, another bill that authorizes federal funding for fetal tissue research was also amended into the NIH legislation. While Congress passed the NIH bill earlier this summer, President Bush promptly vetoed the measure due to the fetal issue provisions. Congress attempted to override the President's veto, but was not successful.

Since NIH must eventually be funded, however, it is very likely that Congress will remove the controversial provision regarding fetal tissue and pass the bill again, which is typical procedure when the President objects to one or two provisions in a large piece of legislation.

Should the bill become law, INDA will review the possibilities of recommending a representative from our industry to serve on the task force. Such a representative would be able to ensure that the interests of the nonwovens industry are considered and reflected in the study that will be conducted by the five federal agencies. This is especially important considering that the study could become the basis of federal regulations on this issue.

Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. He works out of the Washington, DC offices of Keller & Heckman, INDA's legal counsel. This Capital Comments column appears monthly in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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