The Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday announced the first comprehensive set of federal regulations designed to identify and control nearly 500 suspected cancer-causing substances found on U.S. job sites.
Within minutes of the OSHA announcement, several industry groups said they plan to go into federal court to challenge the plan which they have charged would create an unjustified chemical "black list."
At a news conference yesterday, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall hailed the new plan as a "landmark policy" and said it demonstrated the Carter administration's commitment to preventive health care for workers.
Marshall said he was not aware of a court challenge to the policy but added that "we will fight them" if one is filed.
The new cancer policy establishes a system of publicly identifying chemicals which have been shown to cause cancers in humans or laboratory test animals.
The regulatory agency will propose regulations for the more dangerous substances -- calling them Category I -- which will set the lowerst exposure limits.The second tier substances will be less stringently regulated.
OSHA said it will publish every six months in the Federal Register a "candidate list" of substances used in the workplace which poe potential cancer threats. The first list is due in July, said Dr. Eula Bingham, assistant labor secretary in charge of OSHA.
In addition, she said OSHA will pick about 10 "priority list" chemicals believed unusually hazardous for workers. These substances could be subjected to OSHA's emergency temporary standard procedure which generally sharply limits their use and worker's exposure periods, Bingham said.
The policy will go into effect April 22, more than 2 1/2 years after it was proposed by the agency. Bingham said the chemical "priority lists" would be made public early next fall.
Under the new policy, OSHA will be able to streamline its identification process for cancer-causing materials and speed up the complicated and lengthy procedure now required to regulate a workplace carcinogen.
Since it was formed nine years ago, the agency has been able to place only 21 workplace chemicals on its list of regulated carcinogens. In almost every case industry attorneys and scientists have waged protracted battles against the designation.
OSHA officials said they now hope to designate about 10 chemicals annually. In addition, they said workers could learn immediately about a suspected carcinogen by consulting the "candidate list".
Bingham noted that the annual U.S. cancer death rate is nearly 400,000 persons and that federal estimates indicate up to 40 percent of all cancers are occupatonally related. Industry experts say the figure is between 1 and 5 percent.
Ronald A. Lang, executive director of the American Industrial Health Council, a group formed by the chemical industry and others to fight the new cancer policy, estimated it could cost billions of dollars in unneccesary repair work by businesses.
Lang said his group would go to court this week in New Orleans to seek a federal review. Government and industry attorneys have indicated no federal injunction can be sought until the new policy is used against a specific chemical.