Are the political appointees who run OSHA delusional or merely mendacious? In her column in today’s Washington Post, Cindy Skrzycki reviews the efforts by members of Congress to require OSHA to issue standards protecting workers from diacetyl, the artificial butter flavor chemical that causes irreversible lung disease. One statement jumped out:
“I would characterize us as proactive,” said Jonathan Snare, acting solicitor at the Labor Department, which oversees OSHA.
The facts show this is simply false. The statement is so ludicrous that it should be an embarrassment even to the political appointees who run the agency. After OSHA was notified by the Missouri Department of Health of multiple cases of bronchiolitis obliterans among workers at a microwave popcorn plant, an OSHA inspector visited the plant and announced there was nothing he could do. OSHA did not conduct an inspection of another microwave popcorn or flavor factory for more than five years.
We’ve reviewed elsewhere the minimal actions taken by OSHA (see, in particular, OSHA’s “Alliance” with the Popcorn Board), but the short version is that starting in 2000, there were numerous reports of workers in these factories developing lung disease. NIOSH published papers and reports documenting these cases and making recommendations on how to protect workers from this deadly chemical.
After watching OSHA do nothing, in July 2006 two unions and a group of prominent scientists petitioned OSHA for an Emergency Temporary Standard. It was only in response to the announcement that the House Education and Labor Committee was holding an oversight hearing that OSHA actually promised to begin to look at popcorn plants (while ignoring flavor facilities where workers were getting sick).
In its letter denying our petition, OSHA stated that it had visited three (!) popcorn plants. Now the agency has announced a meeting with stakeholders – something they could have productively done five years ago. There is a press release saying OSHA will begin rulemaking, but no federal register notice committing the agency to anything beyond a meeting.
For those of us in the reality-based community, OSHA has been anything but proactive in addressing diacetyl.