OSHA Proposes Changing Safe Beryllium Exposure Level for First Time since 1948

Friday, August 14, 2015
(photo: Ohio Citizen Action)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed lowering the safe exposure level for beryllium, a potentially harmful metal, for the first time since the Truman administration.


In 1948, the U.S. government, through the now-defunct Atomic Energy Commission, established the permissible exposure limit for beryllium at 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The 2.0 limit was adopted by OSHA when it came into existence in 1971.


Since then, it has tried to lower the limit after research showed beryllium at the old limit can cause a deadly form of lung disease. “OSHA first proposed lowering the beryllium workplace standard in 1975 but efforts to do so were beaten back over the years by industry resistance, technical debates and political stalling,” The New York Times reported.


Now, OSHA is trying again with a plan to lower the exposure level to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The proposed rule would also require additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training, according to OSHA.


The regulation would apply to about 35,000 workers in the U.S. whose jobs involve exposure to the metal, which is used in the manufacture of aircraft, electronics components, dental implants and nuclear weapons, among other things. The agency estimates the metal causes nearly 250 new cases of beryllium lung disease each year.


The change came as a result of the lone beryllium producer, Materion, and the United Steelworkers submitting a proposal to OSHA. With industry cooperation, it’s likely the rule will be approved.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

OSHA Proposal Would Lower Beryllium Levels, Increase Workplace Protections (Occupational Safety & Health Administration)

Levels for Beryllium Exposure Sharply Reduced (by Kent Jackson, Standard Speaker)

OSHA to Propose Beryllium Limit in the Works Since 1975 (by Barry Meier, New York Times)


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