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Why are you telling me about CAL/OSHA PEL’s?
Part II Potential Impacts

Barbara Kanegsberg and Ed Kanegsberg, SQRC

Gee, maybe we shouldn’t tell you. Think of the potential fees we could collect by watching you dance the “Funky Chicken” trying to cope with really, really low PEL’s. Hmmm…. Darn, those annoying ethics – ok, here’s more information about the consequences.

The lower PEL’s can negatively impact quality, including product quality, worker safety, and environmental quality. What should you do? Get involved; speak up. Support the positive aspects of the new PEL policy so you can protect your workers, the environment, and your business.

Consequences: Decreased worker safety and environmental quality
With the need for increased process and personnel monitoring, of course, lower PEL numbers would cost more to businesses and would negatively impact the competitive position relative to businesses outside of California. And, in the absence of Federal standards, California PEL’s might be adopted by some companies outside of California, so competitiveness and profitability could be impacted nationwide.

The exceedingly low PEL’s may be so difficult to achieve as to impel process and chemical changes. Quality, including not only product quality but more importantly worker safety, community safety, and environmental quality could also be negatively impacted in several ways.

• Increased use of uncharacterized chemicals
There is a lot to be said for understanding the risks of a particular chemical. However, statements of N.D. (not determined) for worker safety are often erroneously taken to mean no risk. In attempting to find viable process options, it is likely that companies will increase their use of chemicals that are not well characterized and are not widely used. These chemicals, if they are at all effective in a given process, are likely to negatively impact the worker and the environment.

The PEL revision process, while expected to be efficient, will not all happen at once. Cal/OSHA will address a few chemicals at a time, estimated at 12-20 per year. This means that many chemicals, especially those that are less often used or where dangers are not well defined, may be available for use for quite some time before being visited by the “PEL genies”.

The increased use of poorly–understood, rarely used, and therefore unregulated chemicals can negatively impact quality: product quality, worker safety, and environmental safety.

• Increased use of mystery mixes
When it comes to ingredients, the MSDS does not tell the full story.

For non-carcinogens, hazardous materials that are less than 1% of the formulation do not normally have to be listed as hazards on the MSDS. This has resulted in complex, creative formulation. The Cal/OSHA PEL’s are likely to induce additional creativity.

What’s the impact on quality? If the blends perform better than the sum of the parts, if there is synergy in cleaning performance, then there is the potential for synergy in a negative sense in terms of materials compatibility (so product quality is impacted), worker safety, and environmental impact. Because typical industrial cleaning formulations of this type are considered proprietary, it is difficult to determine what might be problematic for people, the environment – and even the product. Even without synergy, the additive impact of all the chemicals is potentially significant (i.e. 0.9% + 0.8% +0.95%+ … can add up to a significant fraction of a formulation).

• Increased outsourcing of problematic processes
If it becomes noisome for California companies to use certain chemicals, the processes are likely to be outsourced to companies in other areas that might not have the resources to protect their workers. Pushing the broccoli around to another part of the plate (albeit a national or international plate) does not resolve the issue. The broccoli (or the contentious chemical) is still present; and it can still impact other workers.

Product quality can be a safety problem
Manufacturing involves products with critical end-uses for the medical community, defense, and seismic protection.

We have alluded to the negative impacts on product quality when chemicals or blends with poorly characterized properties are adopted without sufficient testing. If manufacturers feel impelled to switch from an aggressive, effective cleaning chemistry or other process chemistry, the quality of the surface and the quality of the product can suffer. For products with critical end-use requirements, product failure can have serious impacts on public safety and on individual safety.

• Additional Observation:
You might say, “I don’t live or work in California. We have different requirements where I work. Why should I care what happens in California?”

California PEL’s may come to your state. In today’s economy, manufacturing efforts are linked. It may be that some of your favorite suppliers and sub-vendors are from California. Also, regulators in other areas, often suffering from decreased budgets, look to where a problem has already been addressed—like California. California regulations have been known to influence regulations nationwide; the trend is likely to continue.

So, get involved. How? Read on to Part III.

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