The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has decided to take another look at its cotton dust standard--the one the Supreme Court upheld last summer. OSHA wants to look at some new studies, including one by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute showing only 670 of 150,000 workers surveyed suffered from brown lung disease (byssinosis), widely believed to be caused by inhalation of cotton dust. In 1980, a U.S. Appeals Court concluded that between 35,000 and 100,000 textile workers suffered from brown lung disease.

The agency wants comments by March 26 on whether to add an "action level" to its rule, allowing plants with lower levels of cotton dust to take less stringent measures to monitor the air and protect workers. Currently, a firm exposing workers to any cotton dust must take the same precautions as firms with enormous amounts of dust. OSHA also wants to know if monitoring and protective requirements can be made more cost-effective.

The proposal provoked a statement of outrage from Eric Frumin, safety director of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, who challenged the validity of the textile manufacturers' study and charged OSHA with "betraying the worker's right to a clean and healthful work place."