The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, conceding the failure of its existing policy on protecting workers against exposure to dangerous pesticides, is planning to issue a broad-based set of health rules applicable to all 4,600 American pesticide formulators.
The pesticide standards - which are expected to be arafted in preliminary form by early next year - would lay down general rules for medical monitoring, safe workpractices, training engineering controls and informing workers of the potential hazards of their work, according to officials involved in the project's planning.
Issuance of across-the-board standards for pest-killers, coupled with a similar project that is already under way for cancer-causing substances, represents a major departure for OSHA in its congressionally mandated job of reducing worker exposure to dangerous substances.
In the past, the agency has confined itself to issuing health exposure standards on a substance-by-substance basis, a slow-going approach under which it has not established a single new standard for pesticide exposure in its 6 1/2 years of existence.
According to Grover Wrenn, OSHA's deputy director of health standards programs, the agency started out by adopting about 400 pre-existing industry standards for dangerous substances, including 33 that covered pesticides such as DDT, many of which have subsequently been restricted for use in the United States.
No further pesticine standards have been adopted since then, he said, although OSHA some years ago tried to issue a standard prescribing the amount of time before workers could re-enter fields treated with pest-killers but ran into a jurisdictional dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency, which EPA won in the courts.
OSHA plans later this week to issue an emergency temporary order covering exposure to dibromochloropropane (DBCP), which would be the first such order for a particular pesticide, according to Wrenn.
DBCP. a soil fumigant that has been linked to sterility among workers who produced it, is the latest in a series of pesticides that have been found to cause harm to humans. In cases such as those inolving Kepone and leptophos, which caused nervous disorders, the pesticides were withdrawn from production, eliminating the need for exposure standards.
OSHA Administrator Eula Bingham, who has given the go-ahead for issuance of the pesticide standard, said the agency will issue substance-by-substance standards, including numerical limits for worker exposure, as the need arises.
But she said the across-the-board rules are necessary as a first step. "We simply cannot continue to try to deal with them '(pesticides) one by one," she said recently. "This just hasn't worked."
Use of generic standards - those covering a whole family of toxic substances - has been discussed for some time. But until now they have not been used in expanding OSHA's sphere of coverage, despite pressure from unions such as the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, which has been lobbving for more vigorous action by OSHA in the health field.
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One argument against usr of generic standards for pesticides is that pesticide effects on humans vary from product to product. The industry uses 1,400 active ingredients formulated by 4,600 companies at 7,200 plants to produce an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 separate product - for an annual volume of 16 billion pounds worth $3 billion as of 1975.
But Wrenn said that, within catragories related to toxicity and usage, certain requirements - such as washing facilities or protective gloves for handling chemicals that penetrate the skin can laid down an applied to all producers. Similarly, he said, all producers can be expected to provide periodic medical checkups and inform workers of known evidence of hazards and symptoms, along with educational andtraining programs.