Let's just say this rule has been in a fog since 1987.

Twelve years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency began thinking about tougher labeling to warn consumers of the flammability of aerosol pesticides. The agency believed the switch from nonflammable chlorofluorocarbons to other aerosol propellants such as propane and butane, which are ignitable, posed fire and explosion hazards to their users.

But opposition from aerosol manufacturers over labeling their products "extremely flammable," along with more testing, persuaded the EPA to narrow the problem to a less obvious culprit: total-release foggers, or what consumers call bug bombs.

Anyone who has ever had an insect infestation and hasn't hired a professional pest-control company probably has had some experience with foggers.

Highly efficient and inexpensive, total-release foggers are cans of propellant laced with pesticide that automatically release the contents of a can over a short period of time, creating a "fog" of room-filling bug killer.

Effective today, the 220 or so total-release foggers on the market must be labeled to alert purchasers that they can cause fire or explosion if used improperly.

In addition to labeling language that tells consumers to use only one fogger per room and turn off any ignition sources, such as gas pilot lights and electrical appliances, the rule also requires that a graphic symbol of a flame appear on the package.

The cans must be labeled "highly flammable" instead of the original terminology the industry didn't like--"extremely flammable."

This all sounds pretty simple and smart, but it certainly didn't happen easily.

The agency admits it made missteps.

Its initial pronouncement was sweeping, calling for new labeling and testing of all aerosol pesticides. Manufacturers complained they were not asked to comment on the proposal and said the agency lacked scientific data to show that flammable propellants in aerosols were causing fires and explosions.

Ten months after the EPA suggested a labeling change was in the offing, the agency pulled back.

"The industry felt the scope was beyond what was necessary in advising consumers," said Ralph Engel, president of the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association. "We made it known clearly, and the agency recognized it had gone well beyond the foggers."

In 1991 the EPA tried again, suggesting cautionary labeling and testing of aerosols. The industry opposed that plan and urged the EPA to concentrate on total-release foggers, a much smaller sector of the market.

The following year, the EPA started work on a proposal to regulate the foggers based on reports that suggested they had caused at least 40 deaths.

In 1994, there was yet another proposal, which formed the basis for the final rule that goes into effect today.

Both the regulators and the regulated look back on this 12-year odyssey as maybe not the best way to go about things.

Besides disagreements between those two groups, there was input from public interest groups, which scathingly criticized the EPA and the industry for dragging their feet in warning consumers and for narrowing the rule.

"It's not normal for it to take 12 years, but it's not usual for the government to prevail when industry pushes hard against a rule," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

In 1994, POGO issued a report called "Aerosols Give Business and Public Big Boom: Where Is the Protection in the EPA?"

The report accused the EPA of "ignoring its own experts, as well as fire officials who are concerned about the potential dangers of explosions and/or fires caused by routine usage or storage of consumer aerosol products."

POGO relied on reports from whistleblowers within the EPA such as Dwight Welch, who crusaded for years for more labels on all aerosols.

"The foggers are a particular problem, but aerosols in general are a problem," said Welch, who was transferred to a different part of the agency and therefore was unable to work on the rule. Welch believed all aerosols should be marked "flammable" or "extremely flammable."

Engel of the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association said the industry now agrees with the scope and approach of the final rule, which addresses just the problems with foggers.

To make other types of aerosol pesticides explode, Engel said, "you'd have to put them on a hot surface. But you could do that with a can of peas."

PARTY ON!

The Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversees the nation's savings institutions, is celebrating its 10th anniversary in a big way.

Created in the aftermath of the savings and loan crisis, the agency was not expected to last long, let alone thrive. But now the agency has a year's worth of activities planned and will run up a $50,000 tab on brown-bag lunches, bowling, horseshoe and skeet competitions, and family outings.

Washington headquarters staff members will board the Odyssey for a Sunday jazz brunch cruise on the Potomac.

"We consider it reasonable considering what OTS employees have gone through in those 10 years," said an OTS spokesman.