Last week members of the US House by a vote of 260 to 154 passed and sent to the US Senate HR 2693 – the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act. All three Republicans in the Washington State Congressional delegation (Reichert, McMorris Rodgers and Hastings) voted for an amendment to weaken the final bill. All of Washington State’s Democratic Congressmen voted to oppose the amendment as well as voting for final passage of the bill.
Hastings actively opposed the legislation in the Rules Committee ,voting against it coming to the House floor for a vote.
On the House floor Congressman Wilson of South Carolina offered a weakening amendment “to require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to wait until the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concludes there is sufficient data to support a recommended exposure limit and establishes such recommended exposure limit before issuing a final standard.
All three Republican Congressman form Washington State voted for this amendment. It failed on a vote of 189 YEA to 233 NAY. On final passage of the bill after the amendment lost, Reichert voted for the legislation. Hastings and McMorris Rodgers continued their opposition to the bill and voted against final passage.
Here is part of the discussion from the Congressional Record
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Chairman and Members of the House, today we have an opportunity to protect thousands of American workers from a serious, irreversible and deadly lung disease known as “popcorn lung,” a disease caused by a simple artificial butter flavoring chemical called diacetyl.
The alarm bells began ringing on this health crisis over 7 years ago when a Missouri doctor diagnosed several workers from the same popcorn production plant with this debilitating lung disease. In 2002, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health linked the lung disease to exposure to diacetyl used in the plant.
Scientists have called the effect of diacetyl on workers’ lungs “astonishingly grotesque” and likened it to “inhaling acid.” Hundreds of workers in popcorn and flavor production have become ill, several have died of popcorn lung, and many of the workers are so sick they needed lung transplants. Dozens of workers have sued flavoring manufacturers, winning millions in lawsuits and settlements.
NIOSH first connected popcorn lung to this chemical in 2002. In 2003, NIOSH issued guidance recommending that workers’ exposure be minimized. In 2004, the Food Extract Manufacturers Association, the trade association of the flavoring industry, issued similar guidelines. Yet 5 years later, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to issue a standard to protect workers from exposure to diacetyl, preferring to rely on voluntary efforts.
Voluntary efforts, however, have not worked. Last year, California researchers found that despite the issuance of government and industry guidance for years before, many of those recommendations still have not been implemented in the flavor manufacturing facilities, and new cases of this debilitating lung disease have been identified. How does this bill address the problem? H.R. 2693 would require OSHA to issue an interim final standard to minimize worker exposed to diacetyl. The [ GPO’s PDFstandard would contain provisions of engineering controls,
respiratory protection, exposure monitoring, medical surveillance and worker training. The interim standard applies to popcorn manufacturing and packaging, as well as the food flavoring industry.
OSHA would then be required to issue a final standard within 2 years. This final standard would apply to all locations where workers are exposed to diacetyl and would include permissible exposure limit.
This bill should not be controversial. It is not another battle between workers and business about safety issues and alleged burdens of regulations. Over the past several months, we have built a wide coalition around this legislation from all sides, including industry, labor and scientists. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, the association representing the companies that make these flavorings, has joined with the unions that represent the affected workers to strongly support this legislation.
In fact, the only outside dissenters from this coalition are the usual anti-OSHA ideologues spouting the same old “sky is falling” rhetoric about regulations. Such
rhetoric may be music to the ears of the OSHA-hating ideologues in search of a talking point, but in the real world, this ideology leaves workers and their families to suffer from the preventable scourges of toxic chemicals. There are many reasons why industry, labor and scientists agree on this legislation. They all agree that we don’t need to wait any longer to act; indeed, we can’t afford to wait. I have a list of almost 30 major studies and reports showing that diacetyl destroys workers’ lungs. They agree that we know how to protect workers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued guidelines in 2003 laying out the basic measures that industry can take to prevent worker exposure to diacetyl. In 2004, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association outlined in even greater detail the measures that members can take to prevent the employees from getting sick. This legislation is straightforward and merely requires that OSHA do what it could have done and should have already done, issue an emergency standard. There is precedent for this bill and for Congress stepping in when OSHA falters in its mission to protect American workers. In 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 2000, Congress moved to require OSHA to issue health and safety standards.
Earlier this month, in response to a report that a consumer of microwave popcorn has contracted popcorn lung, a few popcorn manufacturers have announced that they intend to stop using diacetyl. This is welcome news. It highlights how serious this issue is, but it is not enough.
Workers are still at risk because diacetyl will continue to be used in a variety of other food products. We can’t wait for consumers to get sick and hit the companies in their pocketbooks before the industry changes. Workers are getting sick now, and have for many years, and will continue to get sick unless we act.
Workers cannot wait any longer for our help. In the past several years, we’ve seen hundreds of workers become sick from exposure to diacetyl, and we’ve heard about young workers who need lung transplants, who are not expected to live to see their small children grow up.
It is time for us to act. OSHA has failed over 5 years. They’ve been on notice to do this, they have failed to do this. The only time they have shown any movement is when we’ve called a hearing or had some congressional action, they have responded to it.
The time has come for Congress to act and pass this legislation and stop ignoring the needs of these workers’ health and safety. And it’s time to get OSHA to do the job that they were constituted to do, and that is, to protect these workers and their families from this preventable exposure to diacetyl as the toxic substance that it has become.
Congresswoman Woolsey, the bill’s prime sponsor, added her comments including this:
The Workforce Protections Subcommittee held a hearing on OSHA standards in April. We heard from Eric Peoples, a former microwave popcorn worker, who has popcorn lung. Eric is in his thirties. He has a young family. He worked in a microwave popcorn facility in Missouri for less than 2 years. After that, he had to stop work because he had contracted popcorn lung disease. Popcorn lung is an irreversible and life-threatening respiratory disease. Eric has lost 80 percent of his lung capacity, is awaiting a double lung transplant, and faces an early death, all because he was exposed to diacetyl.
A standard regulating exposure of diacetyl is currently needed. While OSHA has known about the dangers of the chemical for years, it has failed. It has failed day after day, year after year to act to make this standard an actual reality. In fact, OSHA has done virtually nothing to protect workers against diacetyl.
Now there has been at least one or two other reported cases of popcorn lung in consumers. Wayne Watson, a 53-year-old man from Colorado, has been diagnosed with popcorn lung due to his daily consumption of microwave popcorn over a 10-year period.
In addition, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that a 6-year-old child, the son of a popcorn plant employee who has popcorn lung, was showing signs of the disease himself. In that case, when the popcorn plant closed, the company told the employees they could help themselves to any of the company’s products. The father took home some butter-flavored oil containing diacetyl and used it for frying food. As a result, this 6-year-old child was exposed to the chemical, and it made him sick.
These are unintended and unfortunate consequences when OSHA refuses to act to protect workers. This is true, Mr. Chairman, even though the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers’ Association, the Industry that represents the food flavoring manufacturers, issued a report warning of the dangers to workers from exposure of diacetyl and recommended measures controlling that chemical.
OSHA does not seem moved to meaningful action, even though four of the Nation’s biggest popcorn makers have recently announced that they are working to remove diacetyl from their products. In my own State of California, CalOSHA is currently working on a standard to regulate diacetyl.
Congressman Wilson of South Carolina made his pitch which basically said let the Bush appointed regulators that haven’t acted since 2001 on this issue be trusted to come up with answers.
“…folks listening to this might be surprised that there actually is a process in place for rulemaking within OSHA. There is a process in place that maximizes workplace safety while it sets standards based upon the strongest and the most complete scientific information.
Now, today, the House of Representatives is considering a bill which bypasses this process, bypasses the process and sets a permissible exposure limit for diacetyl, making Members of Congress the ones who are the experts on scientific evidence.
As my friend mentioned, before I came to Congress, I was a physician. One of the things that concerned me greatly was that Members of Congress, many Members of Congress think that they know best about so many issues. One of them was how to practice medicine. In this instance, it’s what the level of appropriate exposure for a worker in this Nation ought be for diacetyl.
Diacetyl is an artificial flavoring commonly used for popcorn. It has been determined to be safe for general consumption, but the inhalation, the breathing in of large quantities may be harmful, although there is not any evidence that demonstrates that it can be solely harmful to an individual, which is what this bill actually assumes or presumes.
You have heard talk about the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH. NIOSH is the group that studies these kinds of things. In fact, they produced a study that concluded, “There is insufficient data that exists on which to base workplace exposure standards or recommended exposure limits for butter flavorings.”
Those are the folks that are the scientists that are involved in setting standards. We ought to listen to their recommendation. I commend the author and I commend the individuals who want to push the process forward more rapidly. I think that’s an appropriate thing to do. But by adopting this bill, Congress is effectively saying to OSHA that your rulemaking process doesn’t make any difference, that we don’t need to hear the folks who have the greatest amount of knowledge about an issue, and that Congress is about to set standards based upon incomplete scientific evidence.
Now that may not be of great concern to some, but it ought to be. It ought to be. Regulations of this nature should only be based on the most sound and thorough scientific data. Otherwise, Congress is coming back every 6 months, every year, every 2 years and revising what they have put in place because they haven’t based their decisionmaking on appropriate scientific information.
If this legislation is to go forward, then I would encourage my colleagues to allow
it to do so with the adoption of the Wilson amendment. This amendment would ensure that a final safety standard for diacetyl is in fact based on adequate scientific and complete review by NIOSH. The Wilson amendment will guarantee that the most effective worker protections are put in place with the backing of science rather than identifying one compound without complete information. If the goal here is workplace safety, if the goal is workplace safety, then we ought to make certain that that safety, those guidelines, those regulations are put in place and done correctly. Members of Congress should have a critical eye on the OSHA rulemaking process, without a doubt. But it’s important that we not implement mandates based upon incomplete scientific evidence and without all of the acts …
George Miller summed up the question before Congress in fairly simple form before the House voted:
“… I urge Members of the House to vote against the Wilson amendment and then to support the legislation. If we adopt the Wilson amendment, we’re going right back to the status quo, and the status quo is killing these workers in these facilities. And we have the ability to stop it with this legislation.
We should stop it now. We should not any longer empower OSHA to continue to drag their feet and ignore the health and the safety of these workers and their families.”
Does it make a difference whether Democrats or Republicans control Congress? Well on final passage of the bill 213 Democrats voted for the bill and 8 against it. Voting No were 146 Republicans , with 47 voting for final passage. The final vote 260 YEA to 154 NAY.
The weakening amendment vote was much closer however. 189 Yea to 233 NAY