By David Michaels

Later this week, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 2693 — The Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act. Now is the moment to let your Member of Congress know how important it is for them to support the legislation.

Popcorn Workers Lung is a case study in regulatory failure. As we’ve written many times here, OSHA has ignored this deadly hazard for far too long. At least three workers have died and dozens more have developed irreversible lung disease as a result of exposure to diacetyl.

H.R. 2693 would give OSHA 90 days to issue an interim final standard that would include measures to minimize workers’ diacetyl exposure, including 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 flavorings industry.

The legislation also gives OSHA two years to issue a final standard containing a permissible exposure limit and controlling exposure to diacetyl to the lowest feasible level.

H.R. 2693 is supported by a broad coalition of industry, labor, and public health groups, including the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the American College of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, the AFL-CIO, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the Teamsters, the Bakery and Confectionery Workers and the American Society of Safety Engineers.

Earlier this month, a group of leading occupational health scientists and physicians sent a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, reiterating the desperate need for a diacetyl standard.

But, appallingly, the bill is opposed by OSHA, as well as a motley coalition of anti-regulatory groups, who have banded together under the name OSHA Fairness Coalition.

Perhaps some of the member organizations of the OSHA Fairness Coalition, like the National Association of Home Builders or the National Association of Convenience Stores, know something about protecting workers from diacetyl that the flavor industry and the public health community doesn’t yet understand. If they do, they shouldn’t keep it a secret any longer.  I don’t know how to eliminate popcorn workers lung without stopping workplace diacetyl exposure. And as long as the food industry uses diacetyl, an OSHA standard is an important part of any solution.

OSHA Fairness? Give me a break. Now is the time to be fair to workers, and to the responsible employers who want to protect their employees. Support H.R. 2693. The Capitol switchboard’s phone number is 202.225.3121.

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.