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July 7, 2011

OSHA Drags Its Feet on Study Regarding Workers’ Exposure to Toxic Substance

Agency Has Missed Deadline on Review of Beryllium’s Health Effects

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The release of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) regulatory agenda today reveals that the agency has failed to take any concrete steps since last year on limiting workers’ exposure to the toxic substance beryllium and has no plans to do so anytime soon.

OSHA is continuing its review of evidence relating to beryllium’s health effects, but the agency has made little to no progress since last year and already has fallen behind its schedule. The final phase, an economic peer review, was supposed to be completed by May 2011.

Ten years have passed since Public Citizen first petitioned OSHA to reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of beryllium from its current level of 2 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) to 0.2 ug/m3.

Beryllium – which is used in metalwork, electronics manufacturing, the nuclear energy sector and laboratories that work with nuclear materials – is known to cause cancer and other fatal diseases when inhaled.

“The current standard is based on an analysis conducted more than 60 years ago; it is outdated and does not protect the health of workers,” said Justin Feldman, Public Citizen’s worker health and safety advocate. “The U.S. Department of Energy realized this when, in 2000, it enacted a standard of 0.2 ug/m3 in all its facilities. OSHA has yet to follow suit.”

Added Dr. Sammy Almashat, health researcher with Public Citizen, “It is unacceptable that, with more than 30,000 workers’ lives potentially at stake, the agency is taking far too long to conclude its review.”

OSHA must move much more quickly to complete its analysis and issue a final rule that brings its standard in line with current evidence, Public Citizen said. OSHA has dragged its feet on the issue for too long, leaving tens of thousands of workers exposed to this toxic substance at levels ten times higher than allowed for DOE workers.

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