Federal officials are preparing to unveil next month on already controversial regulatory policy that for the first time would identify hundreds of suspected cancer-causing substances on U.S. job sites, regulatory sources said.
The policy, which has drawn bitter opposition from the chemical industry in particular, is expected to be released by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration before Dec. 15, the sources said.
Under the plan, OSHA officials expect to speed up the process of identifying and regulating suspected carcinogenic substances in the workplace to less than one year. In the nine years that OSHA has been in operation, 21 workplace carcinogens have been identified by the agency. Identifying each took an average of between four and five years.
In September, the Carter administration issued guidelines for regulatory agencies, including OSHA, involved in controlled cancer-causing substances. The guidelines allow the use of animals tests to determine the cancer risk of chemicals but also require federal regulators to assess the economic cost of lowering chemical exposure.
The proposed OSHA policy would be the first of its kind by a federal regulatory agency since the federal guidelines were set. It is expected to have a broad impact not only on the chemical industry but also on business using a chemical-based technology.
Chemical industry officials have objected that the plan, initially proposed BY OSHA in 1977, would establish an instant "blacklist" of suspected work-place carcinogens before they are subjected to established regulatory process.
OSHA officials expect the chemical industry to challenge the new policy in court almost immediately after it is released, according to knowledgeable sources.
Parts of the proposed plan were printed last week in the Occupational Health & Safety Letter, a newsletter here specializing in OSHArelated matters.
OSHA sources confirmed that the plan would establish two priority categories of potential carcinogens on job sites.
Category I substances would be those known to cause cancer because of their effect on humans or in long-term animal tests.
In the second category would be those substances believed to cause cancer because of their effects on research animals. The category may include substances and have been shown to be carcinogenic in short-term laboratory tests if other factors support the short-term testing, the sources said.
OSHA officials already have identified about 200 chemicals for Category I and 300 for Category II, the categories would be regulated to a different degree under the new policy.
OSHA also plans to list 10 chemicals in each category for priority regulation, basing those lists on the number of workers exposed to the chemicals and the immediate effect their regulation would have on workers' health.
OSHA also can request a review after three years of the full policy by the directors of other federal scientific agencies.
The American Industrial Health Council, which was set up last year by the chemical industry to fight the proposed OSHA policy, said it was disappointed by the plan to establish the priority system.