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OSHA issues diacetyl NEP

January 27, 2011

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Washington – An updated National Emphasis Program on diacetyl (.pdf file) now includes substitutes for the butter-flavoring chemical, OSHA announced Jan. 24.

The original NEP was launched in July 2007 after several reports linked diacetyl to bronchiolitis obliterans, a fatal lung disease. The disease is more commonly known as “popcorn workers lung” because of its use in the microwave popcorn manufacturing industry.

Since then, some manufacturers have switched to other flavoring chemicals, including ones that have led to diacetyl-like health effects (.pdf file), according to OSHA. The new NEP, which went into effect Jan. 18, includes a number of these substitutes.

“Illnesses and death from these chemicals are preventable, and this revised directive will help ensure that employers use necessary measures to protect workers from this hazard,” OSHA administrator David Michaels said in a press release.

The original NEP expired in 2008 and was not renewed. The current NEP will expire in one year, but may be continued. An NEP launched in 2009 that covers facilities that manufacture food flavorings with diacetyl (.pdf file) remains unchanged and is not affected by the new NEP.

Current regulations

Some of the diacetyl substitutes have permissible exposure limits, but most – as well as diacetyl itself – do not. Despite a lack of PELs, OSHA said in the release that popcorn manufacturing sites are subject to applicable standards, such as respiratory protection (1910.134) and hazard communication (1910.1200).

Although one does not currently exist, OSHA is pursuing a standard on diacetyl, the agency said. Michaels has said a diacetyl rulemaking may be too “piecemeal,” and a broader standard addressing the safety of food flavoring additives may be necessary.

In December, California became the first state to implement a diacetyl standard, which requires employers to provide safeguards to employees who work with certain concentrations of diacetyl. Such measures include a written program, exposure level monitoring, medical surveillance and providing personal protective equipment. As a State Plan state, California must be “as effective” as federal OSHA, but can issue regulations that exceed federal requirements.

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