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OSHA formaldehyde proposal having an impact on nonwovens suppliers.

OSHA Formaldehyde Proposal Having An Impact On Nonwovens Suppliers

resin and binder suppliers have voiced their concerns and INDA has commented on some portions of the proposed regulation, which OSHA expects to publish by the end of the year While it has been working on a formaldehyde standard since 1987, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) efforts to adopt a regulation acceptable to organized labor and industry management have been difficult. But negotiations have finally yielded a compromise that is acceptable to many and OSHA has released a compromise version as a proposed regulation that it expects to adopt as a final rule by the end of the year.

In reaction to this and at the request of several members who manufacture binders and resins, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, has filed a formal comment on the proposed OSHA rule on employee exposure to formaldehyde.

INDA is concerned about certain aspects of this proposed final rule, especially those that would distinguish between solid and liquid sources of formaldehyde. INDA has expressed these concerns to OSHA and is hopeful that corrective action will be taken.

OSHA's Action: A Brief History

In December, 1987, OSHA issued a comprehensive regulation covering occupational exposure to formaldehyde. The regulation was designed to protect workers and does not apply to the commercial market in any meaningful way.

The regulation essentially reduced permissable exposure limits to one part formaldehyde per million parts of air as an eight hour time weighted average and included provisions for such things as monitoring, record keeping and personal protective equipment.

Then and now, controversy over the issue has centered primarily on acceptable exposure levels and warnings for workers. Action was brought in federal court by labor and industry to keep OSHA from enacting the standard. Several labor unions sued on the grounds the exposure levels were too high; the Formaldehyde Institute sued on the grounds that the hazard communication provisions were inappropriate.

The court case was decided in such a way that none of the parties involved won a complete victory. So, to resolve the issue, representatives of OSHA, the Formaldehyde Institute and the labor unions involved in the law suit began negotiations to develop a compromise.

OSHA's Proposed Final Rule

These negotiations resulted in a compromise that OSHA released as a new version of the proposed regulation last summer. Under this new proposal, permissable formaldehyde exposure levels would be lowered from the existing level of one part per million (PPM) as an eight hour time weighted average to 0.75 ppm. The new version also changed hazard communication and employee training requirements that had been contained in the original proposal and established hazard labeling requirements for solid materials capable of releasing formaldehyde into the air.

Since these changes reflected what OSHA believed to be a consensus opinion of the major parties affected by this issue, it was not thought to be controversial and OSHA released the proposed rule with a 30 day comment period.

The INDA Comment

Formaldehyde can be generated during the drying and curing of certain resins and binders that are incorporated into some--but certainly not all--types of nonwoven fabrics. To gauge the impact of the new version of the proposal on the nonwovens industry, INDA circulated copies to its member companies.

The response from members who produce binders and resins was quick and centered on new hazard communication sections contained in the standard that would require that different warning labels be used for formaldehyde released from solid sources than those used for formaldehyde released from non-solid sources.

Basically, the new proposal would require that any liquid or non-solid material capable of releasing formaldehyde at 0.1 ppm would require a label that warns of all formaldehyde hazards, including cancer and respiratory sensitization. But solid materials capable of releasing formaldehyde at 0.1-0.5 ppm would only need to identify that the product contains formaldehyde and state that physical and health information is available from the employer; they would not have to include a cancer warning. Solid materials capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels above 0.5 ppm would have to carry the hazard label.

INDA believes that this difference between solid and non-solid forms of formaldehyde is unreasonable and would require extensive relabeling on raw materials, in-plant storage tanks and other equipment. Furthermore, INDA does not believe that OSHA has documented findings that exposure to 0.1-0.5 ppm of formaldehyde from a solid material could be distinguished from an equal exposure of 0.1-0.5 ppm of formaldehyde from another source.

Finally, INDA is concerned that OSHA does not specify that these limits (0.1 ppm versus 0.5 ppm) apply to an eight hour time weighted average.

The INDA Recommendations

Based on these concerns, INDA has recommended that OSHA drop its distinction between formaldehyde released from solid versus non-solid sources. Instead, INDA has recommended that any material capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels below 0.5 ppm should contain labels informing workers that the product contains formaldehyde and that health and safety information is available from the employer. Similarly, hazard warnings would be required for any products--solid or liquid--capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels above 0.5 ppm.

Also, with regard to the lack of a definition for the time frame associated with exposure, INDA has recommended that OSHA specifically state that exposure relates to an eight hour time weighted average.

OSHA has received nearly 35 comments in response to its proposed final rule and is currently evaluating those views. At this point it is unclear how many of those comments support the proposal, but it is unlikely that any negative comments at this stage could result in OSHA not issuing a final rule.

In fact, according to OSHA staff, the agency expects to issue a final rule by the end of November. Whether that rule will adopt INDA's recommendations is uncertain at this time, but we are hopeful that OSHA will see the logic in our arguments and incorporate the suggested changes into the final rule.

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.
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Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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