The chemical manufacturing industry is facing growing pressure to provide more explicit labeling of industrial chemicals because of regulatory actions by states and foreign governments.
New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean earlier this week signed into law a chemical-labeling bill that unions and environmental groups consider one of the strongest in the nation and that industry officials denounce.
The New Jersey law requires that detailed information on chemicals used by industry be made available to workers, state health and environmental officials and police and firefighters. It covers both hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals.
"The New Jersey law is one of the worst," said George Ingale, director of association liaison for the Chemical Manufacturers Association. The enactment of state laws has created a serious problem for the industry because it faces different requirements in terms of labeling when it crosses state boundaries, he said. "Ultimately there probably will be a shakeout so it comes down to what is most cost effective," he said.
However, devising federal standards is extremely difficult and time-consuming, he said.
Although piecemeal standards exist in areas such as pesticide labeling and labeling chemicals for interstate transportation and later this year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue proposals for providing information about workplace exposure, there is no single official standard for labeling chemicals with information about potential hazards.
The chemical industry has adopted on a voluntary basis a standard created by the American National Standards Institute, a non-profit, industry-sponsored group.
"We tried for some time to get some federal legislation moving, but were just not very successful," said Nolan Hancock, legislative director of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union. Hancock said that his and other unions turned to efforts at the state level when those efforts were frustrated, in part by administration opposition.
Still another potential problem for the chemical industry is recent action by the European Economic Community adopting new labeling standards. The action must be implemented by the member countries of the EEC during 1984 and 1985.
"The United States did not participate in their development," said Robert Reinstein, director of trade policy for energy and chemicals for the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. "We don't have a harmonized labeling system in the U.S. at this minute, and since the U.S. doesn't have a labeling system but a number of individual requirements, we weren't really in a position to negotiate or consult with the Europeans and say--do it our way," he said.
Ingale said that the European requirements may create confusion for U.S. manufacturers, in part because tests and thresholds used to establish if a substance is dangerous may be different from those used here.