In 1989, after almost two decades of substance-by-substance standard setting, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgated its Air Contaminants Standard, imposing new exposure limits for 376 toxic substances encountered in U.S. industry. In marked contrast to earlier regulations, the Air Contaminants Standard has generated relatively little industry opposition. This paper analyzes the standard in the context of the twenty-year debate over the appropriate role for technological feasibility and economic compliance costs in occupational health policy. The political feasibility of the new standard is traced to OSHA's abandonment of “technology forcing” in favor of reliance on “off-the-shelf” technologies already in use in major firms. While important as an embodiment of OSHA's new “generic” approach to regulation, the Air Contaminants Standard cannot serve as a model for future occupational health policy, due to its reliance on informal, closed-door mechanisms for establishing regulatory priorities and permissible exposure limits.

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