Emergency Process Pushing New Air Quality Standard for Wildfire Smoke

Brian German Agri-Business, Regulation

A new air quality standard that addresses wildfire smoke which contains high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is moving quickly.  A petition that was filed at the end of 2018 seeks to amend regulations specific to health risks related to wildfire smoke.  Instead of working through the traditional rulemaking process, the Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) is instituting the emergency rulemaking process which condenses the timeline for when this proposed changes would come into effect. 

new air quality standard“By the standards board making this an emergency rulemaking process, we’re jumping the line,” said AgSafe President and CEO Amy Wolfe.  “Once the Office of Administrative Law says ‘yep, you’ve dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s’ this thing becomes effective from that point forward…so, you’re looking at approximately 360 days in which this emergency rule can be in place.”

The original petition submitted by the California Labor Federation, Worksafe, and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation calls on the Air Quality Index (AQI) to be used in measuring acceptable working standards.  Cal/OSHA has already spent considerable time evaluating the AQI and found it problematic in effectively measuring fine particulate matter.  “The AQI from their perspective doesn’t directly correlate closely enough to PM2.5,” Wolfe noted.  “The process to be able to create a system of measuring PM2.5 quite frankly doesn’t exist right now, at least not in a way that is accessible and easy enough that employers can readily and easily comply.”

With the emergency rulemaking process, Cal/OSHA is not obligated to respond to stakeholder comments.  That eliminated the normal opportunity for collaboration to establish a qualitative and quantitative protocol for when specific personal protective equipment must be issued or work must be stopped altogether.  “I think ag employers need to be prepared for some fairly costly and cumbersome compliance, effective in a very short period of time…if that AQI hits 150 or greater these additional control measures will have to be followed or penalties will be levied,” said Wolfe.

The expedited timeline for the new air quality standard means that it could be implemented in a matter of weeks.  “The public will have five days to comment once the standard is released and then the Office of Administrative Law has ten days to review it…that means that this thing is in place, ready to go once we start getting out of the rainy season and are in the potential for fire season,” Wolfe noted.

Listen to the interview below.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West