A House Labor subcommittee yesterday asked Occupational Safety and Health Administration chief Thorne G. Auchter and his top aides for copies of their appointment calendars to determine if they met with industry officials last year before the agency made a decision that favored the formaldehyde industry.
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) also accused Auchter of keeping secret for more than 14 months an internal study that raised serious questions about the adequacy of OSHA's current asbestos standard. Obey also suggested that OSHA had allowed the Office of Management and Budget to dictate its priorities and that Auchter had made decisions about dangerous work-place chemicals without regard to scientific data.
Auchter said that neither the formaldehyde industry nor the OMB had influenced his decisions. Obey asked Auchter if he had attended two breakfast meetings with the Formaldehyde Institute in January, 1982. Auchter said he did not attend the meetings, which the committee learned about by reading the appointment calendar of John A. Todhunter, an assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA had refused in late 1981 to declare formaldehyde a cancer risk. Within three weeks after the Formaldehyde Institute breakfasts, OSHA also refused to grant an emergency standard to limit formaldehyde use. A month later, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned sales of home insulation made with formaldehyde because of the cancer risk to humans.
"I wouldn't know if someone from the Formaldehyde Institute was sitting in this room," Auchter told Obey. Auchter said his staff meets industry officials because "they are part of the public," but said, "We are not giving away the store."
Auchter said the internal asbestos report cited by Obey was not released immediately because it was "an incomplete document." He said the agency was working as quickly as possible on a new asbestos standard.
In more than two hours of exchanges, Obey accused Auchter of following a "consistent pattern of behavior" which does not "give a benefit of doubt, in the slightest, to persons asking for relief." He said Auchter had failed to enact any new health standards to protect workers even though OSHA has identified 23 chemicals that are believed to be dangerous.
He said Auchter's actions were part of a "broader pattern" in the administration that has put business interests first in decision-making, and he concluded by calling for "every congressional committee with oversight ability . . . to engage in a review" of OSHA. Auchter said Obey had "selectively ignored tremendous improvements" that have taken place at the agency.