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Energy Department Outpaces OSHA in Protecting Workers from Beryllium

OSHA Has Proposed Same Exposure Limit That Energy Department Adopted 17 Years Ago

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen applauds the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for issuing a proposed rule (PDF) that, for the second time in 17 years, would bring its Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program in line with current evidence on the dangers of beryllium. The DOE’s proposal stands in sharp contrast with the actions of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has yet to lower its workplace beryllium limit from an outdated level set in 1971, Public Citizen said.

“This is yet another striking example of the regulatory paralysis that has sadly become the norm at OSHA,” said Dr. Sammy Almashat, researcher for Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “OSHA has fallen far behind when it comes to protecting American workers from the deadly effects of beryllium. OSHA continues to drag its feet on lowering its own permissible exposure limit for beryllium exposure from the decades-old 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. That’s 40 times higher than the DOE’s new proposed action level.”

Beryllium is a toxic metal used in the construction, metalwork, electronics manufacturing and nuclear industries. When inhaled, it can cause fatal diseases, such as cancer and chronic beryllium disease of the lungs. Public Citizen has repeatedly urged OSHA to lower its permissible exposure limit for beryllium to protect workers.

The DOE’s new proposal lowers the “action level,” which triggers an array of mandatory beryllium protections for its workers, to 0.05 micrograms per cubic meter of air. In August 2015, OSHA proposed a rule that would lower the exposure limit to (a still inadequately protective) 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, but the agency has delayed finalizing the rule and may not finalize it under the current administration. The DOE implemented an action level of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air for its workers 17 years ago.

“OSHA’s prolonged inaction means that tens of thousands of workers will remain unprotected from the fatal and disabling consequences of beryllium exposure,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “It is unconscionable that 15 years after Public Citizen’s first petition to OSHA on beryllium, the agency continues to leave these workers in danger.”