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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Legislation to Protect Food Flavoring Workers from Severe Lung Disease Passes House

WASHINGTON, D.C. – By a vote of 260 to 154, the U.S. House of Representatives today approved legislation intended to prevent workers in food processing plants from getting a debilitating, irreversible lung disease that has already sickened and killed a number of workers nationwide.

The legislation would force the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue rules limiting workers' exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial food flavoring for microwave popcorn and other foods. Scientists have linked diacetyl exposure to bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe lung disease often known as "popcorn lung." Despite mounting evidence over several years of the dangers of popcorn lung, OSHA has failed to take action to limit diacetyl exposure, prompting the need for the legislation approved by the House today.

"Seven years after the first cases of popcorn lung were identified, it is stunning that OSHA has failed to protect American workers from this horrible disease," said Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the committee. "The cost of the Bush administration's failure to act can be measured in the number of workers who have avoidably grown ill or died. This legislation is critical to stop the delays in protecting workers from this serious workplace hazard."

"It's a travesty that OSHA has done nothing to regulate this chemical, while workers have fallen seriously ill and some have actually died," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and chief sponsor of the legislation. "That's why it's time for Congress to act to keep workers healthy and safe. Passing this important legislation is a step in the right direction."

Thousands of workers are still being exposed to diacetyl at factories that make or use food flavorings.

The legislation, the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act (H.R. 2693), would:

Mandate that OSHA issue a standard within 90 days to minimize workers' exposure to diacetyl in popcorn and flavorings manufacturing plants. Employers would be required to develop a written exposure control plan that would use engineering controls and respirators to protect workers, and to conduct medical monitoring to determine whether workers' health continued to be harmed.
Mandate that OSHA issue a more comprehensive standard within two years, covering all workplaces where workers may be exposed to diacetyl.
House Democrats urged the Labor Department to address this serious health hazard in August 2006. For more information and for a copy of the August 2006 letter from House Democrats to the Department of Labor, click here.

The Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on OSHA's failure to issue standards, including one for diacetyl, in April 2007. For more information, click here.

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