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With a name like bronchiolitis obliterans, it can't be good, pt.2

Last week, we were discussing the situation of workers in jobs involving the roasting of coffee and how it may prove far more dangerous than would appear. A chemical, diacetyl, is given off by items like roasted coffee and beer, apparently caused by fermentation. It is also present in artificial flavors that give microwave popcorn its buttery flavor.

This chemical, when inhaled can be terribly damaging, leading to the destruction of the bronchial tubes within the lungs. The damage can be so great that it can lead to premature death and once it occurs, it is irreversible.

The troubling element of this chemical is that the damage it causes has be known since the early 1990s. Yet there are no regulations from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), in spite of the high degree of danger it poses to workers who are exposed to concentrations of this chemical.

The OSHA director notes that while regulations are needed, this chemical represents just one of many dangerous chemicals that cause injury to workers and can lead to occupational diseases.

He argues we need a significant overhaul of the entire process of drafting these regulations. The current process is similar to the game "Whack a Mole" where you knock one mole on the head, only to have three or four more pop up in other holes.

A comprehensive surveillance program of workplace chemicals that demanded employers provide some evidence that a substance is not harmful before they were permitted to use it would be ideal, it is difficult to imagine such a system being approved of politically.

American business is so used to using its workforce as "canaries in coal mines" and only limiting or discontinuing use when significant numbers of workers suffer severe illnesses or die, that they would likely bitterly oppose any comprehensive regulatory scheme. They would argue the cost would be too high. 

Perhaps they should speak with workers whose lungs were destroyed by diacetyl and see the price workers pay for our current system.

Source:, "CDC tests at coffee plant find high levels of dangerous chemical," Raquel Rutledge, April 6, 2016

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