Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Unions, Public Citizen Unhappy with OSHA Hex Chrome Proposal

OSHA issued a proposal for a standard to protect workers against hexavalent chromium at the court-ordered deadline, but Public Citizen and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE), which petitioned the agency for the standard and filed a successful lawsuit, are not happy with the results. Hexavalent Chromium has been shown to cause lung cancer.
The agency is proposing three rules, one for general industry, one for construction and one for shipyards. All three would lower the PEL from 52 micrograms per cubic meter of chromium (100 micrograms per cubic meter of chromic acid) to 1 microgram per cubic meter of chromium (2 micrograms per cubic meter of chromic acid), whereas Public Citizen’s 1993 petition sought a PEL of .5 micrograms per cubic meter of chromic acid. OSHA’s proposal is thus four times weaker than the PEL sought by Public Citizen.

Moreover, the agency would require exposure monitoring only in its proposed “general industry” standard for hexavalent chromium, but not in its shipyard or construction standards. Engineering and work practice controls (as opposed to the less-desirable approach, personal protective equipment) would be required for all three industries if the PEL were exceeded for more than 30 days a year, but since exposure monitoring would not be required in shipyards or construction, no one would know if this threshold were met. Personal protective equipment would be required in most cases if the PEL were exceeded at all in the three industries, but, again, exposure would not be measured in two of them.

"This is OSHA’s equivalent of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group said. “It seems the agency would rather not know about exposures than have to compel a recalcitrant industry to take action to protect its workers."
Another sensitive issue was the inclusion of Portland Cement, which contains hexavalent chromium and causes skin irritation. OSHA decided not to cover Portland Cement in the construction standard where most exposure occurs. Why not? According to the proposal, "OSHA believes that guidance efforts by the Agency may be more suitable for addressing the dermal hazards associated with portland cement use in construction settings." In other words, no regulation is need for construction companies. Voluntary "guidance" efforts should do.

And in case anyone’s counting, this would be the first major health and safety standard proposed by OSHA under the Bush administration. And its being done under court order.


The entire proposal can be found here.

Written comments are due January 3 and hearings will start on February 3.

U.S. Appeals Court for the 3rd Circuit gives the agency until January 2006 to issue a final rule.