Washed Cotton in The 1978 OSHA Cotton Dust Standard


August 1995
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 95-113
Washed Cotton

Current Intelligence Bulletin 56


The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-596) states that the purpose of Congress expressed in the Act is “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources.” In the Act, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is authorized to develop and establish recommended occupational safety and health standards and to conduct such research and experimental programs as are necessary for the development of criteria for new and improved occupational safety and health standards.

Criteria for a Recommended Standard…Occupational Exposure to Cotton Dust, a major NIOSH policy document, was published in 1974. The recommendations for a cotton dust standard contained in that criteria document made no mention of washed cotton. Shortly after promulgation of a comprehensive cotton dust standard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)external icon in 1978, new interest focused on evaluating the potential role of washed cotton in the prevention of byssinosis and related occupational respiratory disorders among cotton textile mill workers. Consequent to a special congressional appropriation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)external icon beginning in 1980, NIOSH (at the request of the Secretary of Agriculture) joined with other organizations to establish a government/industry/union task force to collaborate on research to evaluate washed cotton as a potential means of preventing byssinosis. Along with NIOSH, member organizations in this partnership included the Agricultural Research Serviceexternal icon (USDA), the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, Cotton Incorporated, and the National Cotton Council of America. The washed cotton research completed by these Cooperators during the early years of the partnership proved of great value to OSHA in its review of the original cotton dust standard and its promulgation of a revised standard in 1985. Much of that work was summarized in a monograph published in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The current publication reviews the earlier work, summarizes more recent research on batch kier washing of cotton, and provides recommendations regarding prevention strategies involving washed cotton.

Representatives of each of the six cooperating organizations have contributed greatly to the content and form of this document. Each of these organizations has reviewed the document and shares responsibility for the conclusions reached and the recommendations made. The exemplary nature of this government/industry/union partnership on washed cotton research has been lauded by OSHA and by the Office of Technology Assessment, and the Institute is pleased to take a lead role in transmitting this publication to OSHA and supporting its dissemination through the cotton industry.

Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Page last reviewed: June 6, 2014