As I posted yesterday, OSHA has released a new (revived) National Emphasis Program on Microwave Popcorn (Diacetyl / DAPORS). This new NEP expands the list of flavoring chemicals to be included in the inspection process – beyond just diacetyl. It’s not clear how they are taking what seems to be a leap of faith with the new studies and leveraging them into such a specific enforcement program.
There seems to be no empirical evidence mentioned in the new NEP which links substitutes with actual bronchiolitis obliterans in the absence of diacetyl. Further, OSHA also does not mention what the experimental exposure levels of these substitutes were for these recent animal studies. Typically, these levels are much higher than what might be found in a plant environment and, therefore, would be of limited use when setting safe thresholds for workers.
The basis for this new NEP seems to be elevated findings of shortness of breath and reported asthma-like symptoms that diminished once workers were removed from the exposure area.
This seems inconsistent with the findings of irreversible obstructive lung disease associated with diacetyl that prompted the previous flavoring NEPs. In fact, this disconnect is further highlighted by OSHA’s apparent rush to enforcement on the heels of NIOSH’s recent RFI which seeks important information from stakeholders on the effects of substitutes on workers.
Perhaps if OSHA released the enforcement data from the first Microwave Popcorn NEP and the subsequent Food Flavoring NEP, stakeholders will better understand why the Agency is doing what it is doing. Without that data to shed more light on the issue, stakeholders will continue wondering if their efforts are actually protecting workers. When will OSHA publish these findings that contain necessary information for employers and employees to protect themselves?
Final thought: By focusing on the Microwave Popcorn industry for this NEP, is OSHA implying that these chemical substitutes are not a potential issue for the broader food flavoring industry? I doubt that was their intent but what signal are they trying to send?
Popcorn lung is a very serious issue. The only way to solve the problem, in my opinion, is to focus on sound science and making common sense recommendations for employers and employees to better protect themselves. Visit our other blog posts on Diacetyl and Popcorn Lung to learn more about how to become OSHA compliant.
Prometrix Consulting, with a staff of former OSHA officials, offers expert consulting and training services to help clients ensure compliance with complex workplace safety and health requirements.