February 8, 2018
Peracetic Acid (PAA) has seen an onslaught of attention these last 18 months as it continues to sweep into new markets and new applications. Because PAA is an excellent anti-microbial and leaves no harmful residues, it is the chemical of choice in healthcare, vegetable and fruit processing, beef and poultry processing, and aseptic packaging and filling. However, the high reactivity of PAA that underlies its benefits also means that excessive exposure to the vapor can be harmful and cause health issues to those that are exposed. The political debate of course lies around what constitutes excessive exposure?
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were the first two organizations to address the need to limit exposure to PAA. The ACGIH came out with a short-term exposure limit of 0.4 ppm back in 2014, calculated as a 15-minute time weighted average. The EPA has a published limit as well as part of their Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (AEGLs).
Last year the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) proposed an Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health Limit (IDLH) of 0.55 ppm, claiming that at this concentration workers will be so impaired that they will be unable to find the exit door after half an hour of exposure. NIOSH is conducting its own research and plans to establish not only a new IDLH but also a Recommended Exposure Limit (REL).
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA is also in the process of setting a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) and its Health Effects Advisory Committee recently recommended an 8-hour PEL of 0.2 ppm. A PEL is not needed to cite high concentration employers, since they can use any recognized limit under the General Duty clause. They will no doubt cite employers who violate exposure levels.
So, what does all this mean? It means that with the rise of PAA’s use across a variety of industries that current regulations are changing, and new limits and guidelines will soon be published and enforced. It means that employers need to get out in front of these regulations and start to establish safe practices for their employees. It means that employees should expect their work environment to be safe, and free of harmful chemicals.
Safety and adherence to this changing regulatory environment starts with understanding these regulations and how they affect your work place. Understanding the workplace environment starts with understanding what’s in the air, and is it safe and does it meet regulatory exposure levels.
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