thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
EPA Proposes to Ban Most Uses of Perchloroethylene
On June 8, EPA announced a proposed rule that would ban most uses of the solvent perchloroethylene (PCE) and establish a workplace chemical protection program for the uses that are allowed to continue. PCE, also known as tetrachloroethylene and perc, is widely used in applications such as dry cleaning, aerosol degreasing, petroleum manufacturing, and fluorinated compound production. According to EPA, adverse health effects associated with PCE include neurotoxicity effects from acute and chronic inhalation exposures and dermal exposures as well as cancer from chronic inhalation exposures to the chemical. Central nervous system depression, kidney and liver effects, immune system toxicity, and developmental toxicity are among other adverse health effects related to PCE exposure. EPA’s proposal would prohibit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of PCE for all consumer uses of the chemical, as well as most industrial and commercial uses. Manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors would be required to notify companies that receive PCE shipments about these prohibitions and to keep records. Most uses of PCE would be phased out in two years, but the agency is proposing a 10-year phaseout for PCE’s uses in dry cleaning to allow small businesses time to transition away from the chemical. Uses of PCE related to national security, aviation, and other critical infrastructure are among those that would be allowed to continue. EPA’s proposal would also allow the continued processing of PCE to produce “climate-friendly refrigerants” and other chemicals that have roles in the agency’s efforts related to climate change. These and the other allowed uses of PCE would be subject to EPA’s proposed workplace chemical protection program, which the rule says would include requirements to meet an inhalation exposure concentration limit and prevent direct dermal contact. The exposure limit for PCE described in the proposed rule is an existing chemical exposure limit, or ECEL, of 0.14 ppm (0.98 mg/m3) for inhalation exposures as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA). According to EPA, this limit “represents the concentration at which an adult human, including a member of a [potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation], would be unlikely to suffer adverse effects if exposed for a working lifetime.” EPA’s ECEL for PCE is significantly lower than the OSHA permissible exposure limit for the chemical, which is 100 ppm as an 8-hour TWA. “EPA has received data from industry that indicate many workplaces already have controls in place that may reduce exposures sufficient to meet the inhalation exposure limit in the proposed rule or to prevent direct skin contact with PCE,” the agency’s press release states. The proposed ban on PCE is the third rule issued through a new process that calls for EPA to evaluate and address the safety of existing chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, as amended by the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016. The agency previously proposed to ban chrysotile asbestos in April 2022 and most uses of methylene chloride in April 2023. EPA published the proposed PCE rule in the Federal Register on June 16 and accepted public comments on the document until Aug. 15. EPA hosted a webinar on this topic on July 19. For more information, see EPA’s webpage on risk management for PCE.
NIOSH Rescinds Respirator Approval Issued to Honeywell International
NIOSH announced in a recent notice (PDF) that it has honored the request of Honeywell International Inc. to voluntarily rescind one of its respirator approvals. As of June 29, respirators bearing the approval number TC-84A-9263 are no longer approved by NIOSH and may no longer be used, manufactured, assembled, sold, or distributed. The agency directs individuals to contact Honeywell International regarding inquiries about the decision to voluntarily rescind this approval. NIOSH’s certified equipment list no longer includes the approval number TC-84A-9263. The list may be used to locate alternative NIOSH-approved respirators. The agency encourages respirator users and others to use this list to confirm testing and certification approval numbers, which are printed on NIOSH-approved respirators. The website of the agency’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory provides a list of additional guidance documents for users of respiratory protective devices.
CSB Video Explains Causes of 2018 Refinery Explosion
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has released an animated video depicting the April 2018 refinery explosion in Superior, Wisconsin. The incident injured 36 workers, caused more than $500 million in damage to the refinery, released 39,000 pounds of flammable hydrocarbon vapor, and led to the evacuation of 2,500 residents. Nearby Duluth, Minnesota, also issued a shelter-in-place order.
The refinery’s fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit had been shut down for planned maintenance. A worn valve and the lack of appropriate safeguards allowed air to mix with hydrocarbons within the FCC unit, forming a flammable mixture. The resulting explosion destroyed two pressure vessels and launched steel fragments, one of which punctured an asphalt storage tank 200 feet away. Hot asphalt leaked from the tank and accumulated within the refinery for two hours before catching fire.
A storage tank of hydrofluoric acid located 150 feet from the explosion was undamaged, a stroke of luck that CSB characterized as “a serious near miss.” HF can cause severe burns when it contacts skin, and inhalation exposure can be fatal.
CSB’s investigation identified many deficiencies at the refinery that contributed to the incident. According to the agency, the refinery lacked procedures and safeguards for “transient” operations, such as equipment shutdowns. The video notes that the process vessels were made of a grade of steel that is no longer approved for such structures.
The CSB video is available on YouTube. For more information, read the agency’s press release.
MSHA Proposes to Lower Exposure Limits for Silica in Mines
A rule proposed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration would lower existing exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica in metal and nonmetal (MNM) and coal mines to a permissible exposure limit of 50 µg/m3 for a full-shift exposure, calculated as an 8-hour time-weighted average. MSHA also proposes to establish an action level of 25 µg/m3 for respirable crystalline silica and to replace existing requirements for respiratory protection by incorporating by reference ASTM F3387-19, Standard Practice for Respiratory Protection. The proposed rule includes additional requirements related to medical surveillance, which are intended to improve early detection of diseases related to respirable crystalline silica. MSHA’s existing exposure limit for quartz in MNM mines is 100 µg/m3 for a full-shift exposure, calculated as an 8-hour TWA, and there is no separate silica standard for coal mines. The new proposed PEL of 50 µg/m3 for both MNM and coal mines is consistent with the PEL set by OSHA’s 2016 final rule on occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. It’s also consistent with NIOSH’s criteria for a recommended standard that were put forward in 1974: that no worker be exposed to a TWA concentration of respirable crystalline silica greater than 50 µg/m3 as determined by a full-shift sample for up to a 10-hour workday over a 40-hour workweek. The proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. Further details can be found in the agency’s press release and on its silica rulemaking webpage.
New NIOSH Course Focuses on Safety Culture in Healthcare
A new course for healthcare workers available from NIOSH focuses on safety culture in healthcare settings. The agency describes a positive safety culture as one in which “workers and employers do not tolerate unsafe and unhealthy work practices.” Course participants will learn to describe the importance of safety culture in healthcare settings, identify common work-related risks and hazards, and explain strategies to prevent and control occupational injuries and illnesses. The course also aims to help learners identify leadership strategies that can improve safety culture for healthcare workers.
The course comprises five modules that NIOSH estimates will take participants 20 to 30 minutes each to complete. Those who complete the course will receive a certificate. Continuing education credits are available for certain professionals, and instructions for obtaining credits can be found on the course webpage. There is no charge to participate in the course.
Department of Labor Urges Employers to Protect Workers from Wildfire Smoke
On June 9, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a news release urging employers to protect workers from hazardous air quality caused by wildfire smoke. The most significant health hazard associated with wildfire smoke, DOL explained, is exposure to particles of burned material less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. These particles may enter the lungs and bloodstream and are linked with serious lung, heart, and kidney disease. Workers exposed to air polluted by wildfire smoke may also experience heat stress and eye or respiratory tract irritation or be exposed to other respiratory hazards in the atmosphere, such as heavy metals.
Measures to reduce outdoor workers’ smoke exposure include monitoring air quality conditions, such as by using EPA’s AirNow website, relocating or rescheduling work tasks, reducing physical activity, and requiring or encouraging workers to take breaks in smoke-free areas. Employers may consider allowing employees to work indoors with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems or providing NIOSH-approved respirators in situations where they wouldn’t otherwise be required. DOL also directed employers to OSHA's safety tips for protecting workers during wildfires and to NIOSH's resources for reducing outdoor workers’ exposure to smoke.
ECHA Adds Two Substances to Hazardous Chemicals List
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) announced on June 14 the addition of two new hazardous chemicals to its Candidate List of substances of very high concern for authorization. The substances are diphenyl(2,4,6-trimethylbenzoyl)phosphine oxide, a chemical with consumer uses in inks and toners, coating products, photo-chemicals, polymers, adhesives and sealants, putties, and modeling clay; and bis(4-chlorophenyl) sulphone, which is used in the manufacture of plastic products, chemicals, and rubber products.
Details about these substances are available from ECHA’s “infocards.” The infocard for diphenyl(2,4,6-trimethylbenzoyl)phosphine oxide states that it is suspected to be toxic to reproduction. Most of the companies that have submitted data to ECHA on the substance agree it is skin sensitizing. The second chemical, bis(4-chlorophenyl) sulphone (infocard), was identified as a substance of very high concern due to its persistent and bioaccumulative properties.
The Candidate List now contains 235 substances. Identifying a chemical as a substance of very high concern and including it in the Candidate List is the first step of the authorization procedure under REACH, the European Union’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals.
For more information, see ECHA’s news release.
Draft IDLH Value Profiles for Hydrogen Bromide, Hydrogen Iodide Published
On June 22, NIOSH published draft IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) value profiles for hydrogen bromide, a solvent and organic catalyst, and hydrogen iodide, primarily a reducing agent. The agency’s IDLH values are established to ensure workers’ ability to escape from a contaminated environment if their respiratory protection equipment fails. The draft profiles summarize the technical data associated with acute inhalation exposures to hydrogen bromide and hydrogen iodide.
NIOSH describes both chemicals as “corrosive, nonflammable [gases] with an acrid, irritating odor.” Hydrogen bromide is colorless, whereas hydrogen iodide can be colorless to yellow or brown. The draft profile for hydrogen bromide lists an IDLH value of 35 ppm (116 mg/m3), which is higher than the previous IDLH value of 30 ppm. NIOSH lists an IDLH value of 35 ppm (183 mg/m3) for hydrogen iodide based on the lethality of the “closely related” hydrogen bromide, the agency says. The immediate effects and potency of hydrogen iodide are thought to be similar to hydrogen bromide and hydrogen chloride gases.
The draft documents can be found in the Federal Register. For more information on IDLH values, visit the NIOSH website.
Report Asks OSHA to Assess Actions to Protect Meat and Poultry Workers
On June 20, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on hazards, including infectious diseases, impacting workers in meat and poultry plants and urged OSHA to more effectively protect them. Meat and poultry workers are vulnerable to contracting infectious diseases when working close to one another on production lines. In 2020, OSHA found that the risk of COVID-19 infection for workers at one plant in South Dakota was more than 70 times that of the state’s general population. But OSHA officials told GAO they had limited ability to protect workers, since existing standards did not address hazards specific to COVID-19. OSHA staff met regularly throughout the pandemic with Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) officials, but the agencies reported little collaboration among personnel with direct knowledge of plant conditions.
GAO recommends that OSHA consider actions needed to protect meat and poultry workers, including an industry-specific infectious disease standard similar to the one in progress for healthcare workers. FSIS and OSHA officials should also meet regularly and clearly define, track, and report on short- and long-term outcomes, GAO states.
More information can be found on GAO’s website.
Report Outlines Findings of OSHA Panel on Potential Workplace Violence Standard
A potential OSHA rulemaking on workplace violence in healthcare and social assistance would address risk factors such as a lack of facility policies and training to help workers recognize and manage escalating hostile behaviors of patients, clients, visitors, or staff, according to a report from the agency’s Small Business Advocacy Review panel. Other factors OSHA will focus on include working alone in facilities or patients’ homes; lack of means to communicate in an emergency; and poor environmental design of workplaces.
The panel was convened in March to receive input from representatives of small businesses that would potentially be affected by such a standard, as required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, or SBREFA. Panel participants included representatives from hospitals, addiction recovery and behavioral health services, emergency medical services, home healthcare and field-based social assistance services, and long-term care and assisted living.
According to the report, key issues raised during the panel include the effectiveness of workplace violence prevention programs, practices for multi-employer work sites, and the importance of training on workplace violence. Panel representatives also discussed concerns with OSHA’s draft regulatory framework related to engineering controls. Some representatives commented that certain controls mentioned in the framework, such as cameras, could not be used or “would be counter to the standard of care in their facility.”
The final panel report may be downloaded as a PDF. Further information can be found on the agency’s workplace violence SBREFA webpage.
NIOSH to Study Noise, Ototoxic Chemical Exposures Among Oil and Gas Workers
A new project proposed by NIOSH would examine noise exposure, chemical exposures, hearing loss, and hearing loss prevention practices in the onshore oil and gas extraction industry. According to the Federal Register notice describing the proposal, no significant occupational noise exposure research has yet been conducted in this sector in the United States. This proposed project would address one of the research priorities of NIOSH’s Oil and Gas Extraction Program: preventing hearing loss from exposure at work to loud noise or chemicals that damage hearing. The project would involve direct measurements of noise and ototoxic chemicals on job sites; a questionnaire to collect information on noise and chemical exposures, hearing loss, and associated factors among oil and gas extraction workers; and audiometry tests performed by NIOSH.
Further details can be found in the Federal Register.
CSB: Process Safety Failures Led to Fatal Propylene Release and Explosion
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has released a final report describing process safety failures that led to a fatal explosion on Jan. 24, 2020, in Houston, Texas, at a Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Co. facility performing specialty thermal spray coatings. CSB found that extremely flammable propylene gas leaking from a degraded rubber hose had accumulated in the facility overnight and likely ignited when an employee turned on the lights. The explosion killed two workers and damaged more than 450 buildings, including many homes. A community resident died from his injuries two weeks later.
The propylene gas leak formed when a poorly crimped rubber hose that had lost its pliability became disconnected from a fitting inside a coating booth. Instead of using factory-crimped hose, Watson Grinding employees crimped the hose manually. The hose was a replacement for what CSB described as a “more robust” copper tubing connection and was made of a grade of rubber unsuitable for propylene.
CSB found that an automated system for detecting leaks, sounding alarms, starting up an exhaust fan, and shutting off the gas supply was not functioning, and a manual shutoff valve at the propylene storage tank had not been closed at the end of the previous workday. The incident would have been prevented if either the valve had been closed or the safety system had been working, according to the report.
For more information, read the CSB news release or review the report (PDF).