June 23, 2017

Public Citizen Harshly Criticizes Proposal to Roll Back Parts of the Beryllium Rule

Proposal Would Continue to Put Workers in Construction and Shipyard Industries at Risk of Cancer and Chronic Beryllium Disease

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen is harshly criticizing a Trump administration proposal announced today that would weaken the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rule protecting workers from beryllium. Beryllium is a toxic metal known to cause fatal diseases such as chronic beryllium disease of the lungs and lung cancer, even when very low levels are inhaled.

The proposal would eliminate the “ancillary provisions” of the beryllium rule that would have extended specific new protections to construction and shipyard workers, including exposure assessments, personal protective equipment, medical surveillance and protected work areas. These provisions were included in OSHA’s rule in response to pressure from labor unions and public health groups, including Public Citizen.

“Like other beryllium-exposed workers, construction and shipyard workers deserve to go to work without risking their lives,” said Dr. Sammy Almashat, researcher for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “By eliminating lifesaving protections for workers in these specified industries, the Trump administration is recklessly putting corporate interests above workers’ lives.”

In a rulemaking process that lasted more than a decade, OSHA asked stakeholders to comment on whether its final beryllium rule should extend protections to workers in the construction and shipyard industries. After careful consideration, the agency determined that it needed to cover these workers with a lower permissible exposure limit of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. That limit is preserved in today’s proposal. But the agency also recognized the need to mandate specific protections for construction and shipyard workers. These ancillary provisions have been revoked in the administration’s proposal.

OSHA was right to safeguard these workers in its final rule, Public Citizen maintains. According to the agency, beryllium threatens 62,000 workers. OSHA’s own inspection data show that 70 percent of the 11,500 construction and shipyard workers who come into contact with beryllium while performing open-air abrasive blasting are, in fact, exposed to airborne beryllium that can result in debilitating lifelong illnesses and early deaths.

“If this proposal to weaken the beryllium rule goes into effect, construction and shipyard workers will die and be permanently disabled as a result,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The final beryllium rule issued at the end of the Obama administration must be reinstated immediately.”

###