The Food and Drug Administration has not classified the safety of exposure to the substances. "Even though a flavoring is considered safe to eat, it does not mean that the flavoring is also safe to breathe or handle in occupational settings," according to OSHA. Previous studies demonstrate the potential risk to workers from "uncontrolled airborne exposures to certain flavoring substances."
Researchers are investigating the role of flavoring substances, including diacetyl, in the development of fixed airway obstruction and the lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.
Some manufacturers have reduced or eliminated diacetyl, but the substitutes have not been well-studied and there is growing concern they also pose health risks for workers. "There is additional concern that combinations of chemicals may increase the harm," OSHA notes.
OSHA recommends engineering and work practice control measures, medical surveillance, workplace monitoring, and use of appropriate personal protective equipment to minimize workers' exposure to flavoring substances.
Engineering and work practice controls are the primary methods for controlling exposure and can include use of local exhaust ventilation to remove contaminants, isolation of the processes or sources of hazardous materials, and restricted access to areas where hazardous materials are used or stored.
A medical surveillance program that includes spirometry will enable employers to identify workers experiencing adverse health effects from exposure to flavorings, including diacetyl, advises OSHA.
Spirometry measures the breathing capacity of the lungs. OSHA says fixed airway obstructions are often misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema and recommends a health care provider supervise medical surveillance programs.
The agency also suggests that employers collect personal full-shift samples in order to accurately measure workplace air concentrations of flavoring substances. "Personal full-shift monitoring provides information about each worker's exposure during workplace operations," OSHA says.
Respirators are the least favored method to protect workers from respiratory hazards, according to OSHA. However, the agency advises employers to use respirators during and after the implementation of all feasible engineering and work practice controls, during emergencies, and in other situations where respirators are necessary.
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December 20, 2010
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