An Occupational Safety & Health Administration investigation into n-Propyl Bromide -- a chemical used as an adhesive and a solvent -- and recent publicity surrounding a furniture worker's claim of illness due to nPB exposure may lead to heightened scrutiny of businesses and increased regulatory oversight of nPB and related chemicals.
Increased Use of nPB
In the mid-1980s, the United States and other countries moved to reduce and/or eliminate a number of chlorofluorocarbons and other chemicals that could damage the stratospheric ozone layer. In the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, Congress established timetables for phasing out ozone-depleting substances (ODS) but also encouraged the use of alternative processes and product substitutes. 42 U.S.C. §7671c-e. In 1994, the EPA also established the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP), whereby companies could petition the Environmental Protection Agency for the inclusion of certain chemicals as safer ODS alternatives. 42 U.S.C. §7671k(d).
In 2003, nPB used as a solvent and adhesive qualified as a substance on this list, with a recommended OSHA limit of 25 parts per million over the course of an eight-hour workday. Enviro Tech International v. USEPA (2004) 371 F.3d 370 at 372-374. In light of this, nPB and related solvents became increasingly used as a substitute for ODS chemicals in furniture and other industries, including auto body shops, dry cleaners, and electronics manufacturing plants.
Recent New York Times Article
On March 30, The New York Times profiled an OSHA investigation of an employee of Royale Comfort Seating, Inc. in Taylorsville, N.C. According to the article by Ian Urbina, “As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester,” employee Sheri Farley claims a range of symptoms including chronic pain and neurologic damage due to constant exposure to nPB glue. Her complaints appeared to be echoed by a number of employees in the region working with nPB, which largely had been used as a substitute for 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA).
As a result, OSHA may recommend changing the exposure limits and controls for nPB and other chemicals used as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons. This process is reminiscent of the complaints, investigation, and response in the diacetyl context in the mid-2000s. The next several months will likely bring increased activity in this area.
Attorneys in Gordon & Rees’s Chemical Exposure Practice Group have more than 20 years of experience addressing the litigation, transactional, and regulatory needs of businesses in various chemical industries. Our team has the know-how and resources to help your business in matters involving products of varying chemistries and disease processes ranging from acute to chronic exposure.