UAW Petitions OSHA for Metal-working Fluids Standard

The United Auto Workers Union (UAW) revived a petition first made to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration in October of 1993, calling last week for a immediate action to promulgate a comprehensive standard for occupational exposure to metal-working fluids (MWF).  The new effort is based on what the UAW says is new scientific evidence for respiratory disease and cancer allegedly caused by exposure to metalworking fluids under prevailing conditions, as well as new knowledge regarding microbial growth and exposure control measures.

The petition asks OSHA to establish a permissible exposure limit of 0.5 mg/m3 or less, and to require employers to
implement medical surveillance, exposure monitoring and other protective measures for employees exposed to MWF.

OSHA denied the 1993 petition in 2003, stating that the available evidence of adverse health effects from MWF exposure was not compelling, and that the evidence linking then current formulations of metalworking fluids to cancer was equivocal.  OSHA stated that “MWFs aerosols are associated primarily with respiratory conditions of widely varying levels of severity, and the risks MWFs pose for such conditions are unclear."  A legal appeal filed by the UAW was rejected on the same grounds in 2004.

The UAW claims in its new petition that 227 reports on metalworking fluid exposures have appeared in peer-reviewed literature since 1999.  Three studies found cancer associated with MWF exposure, and others reinforced associations between MWF exposure and respiratory effects, and demonstrated systemic toxicity from absorbed chemicals.