The preliminary findings of the BlueGreen Alliance/Clearya project indicate that employers who purchase chemical products and the workers who handle those products do not have the information they need to protect themselves. The analysis, entitled Obstructing the Right to Know: A Bluegreen Alliance/Clearya Analysis Of The Chemical Industry’s Health Hazard Warnings On Safety Data Sheets, found that 30% of the over 650 Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) analyzed included inaccurate chemical hazard warnings.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HAZCOM) requires that all hazards of all chemicals used in the workplace be identified by the chemical manufacturer or importer. That information is supposed to be included on the SDS for each chemical. Additionally, HAZCOM requires employers to provide information, education, and training to their employees about all the chemical hazards in their workplace.
“Information is only useful if it is accurate and complete,” said Amit Rosner, Co-founder of Clearya, which helps people and organizations create a healthier environment through data-driven insights. “Too many workers are receiving an incomplete picture of the dangers these chemicals present or aren’t being told at all about potentially deadly hazards. Industry needs to do better and regulators should make sure they protect workers.”
There are more than 45,000 chemicals being used in the United States today. Chemical exposures kill between 50,000 to 120,000 U.S. workers every year and add to the contamination of fenceline communities. The analysis of over 650 SDS is the first analysis of this scale.
A significant number of SDS omissions concerned carcinogens. Thirty carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances were present in 512 of the obtained SDSs, and 15% of these SDSs failed to report carcinogenicity in the Hazards Identification section. For example, in an SDS for vinyl chloride—a known human carcinogen—the SDS warned of skin, eye, and respiratory irritation but lacked any mention of cancer. Another SDS for benzene—which should warn of its mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, and specific target organ toxicity—only reported skin and eye irritation and harmfulness if swallowed, contacted with skin, or inhaled. The SDS failed to mention the other highly hazardous effects of this well-studied chemical.
In recent years, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weaken its risk evaluation of chemicals. The BlueGreen Alliance/Clearya analysis concludes that the inadequacies of OSHA’s HAZCOM standard—and the prevalence of inaccuracies in the SDS system—illustrate the need for stronger rules so employers who purchase chemical products—and the workers that use those products—are accurately being warned of the chemical exposures that kill tens of thousands of U.S. workers every year and add to the contamination of fenceline communities and the products we use every day.
“The chemical industry says that workers and employers can rely on SDSs to protect workers from cancer and other health problems. But that depends on the sheets being accurate, and many clearly aren’t,” said BlueGreen Alliance Vice President of Health Initiatives Charlotte Brody. “Employers, unions, investors, and government officials need to take action now to make workplaces and communities safer and build the foundation for a market that favors genuinely safer chemical products. Too many workers are sick and too many workers are dying because of chemical exposures at work.”