ASSE urges Congress to Update Exposure Limits

Enough credible scientific information exists to begin building consensus toward improving some current permissible exposure limits (PELs) and developing PELs for new chemicals, says the American Society for Safety Engineers (ASSE).

The group made its comments in a letter to Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), chair of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protection of the House Committee on Education and Workforce.

"Updating PELs is an achievable goal that should begin now," ASSE President Mark Hansen, P.E., C.S.P., stated in the letter to Norwood. "The current standards are grossly outdated for many of the covered toxic substances in light of the epidemiological evidence compiled over the past 30 years. Some existing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) PELs have not been revised since 1971, and some Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) PELs were set in 1972 for coal mines and in 1973 for metal and nonmetal mines."

He pointed out that some of the substances these PELs address have since been designated as human carcinogens, yet the PELs remain at levels dangerous to human health.

PELs are set to protect workers against the health effects of exposure to hazardous substances.

ASSE promotes the use of a voluntary consensus process in establishing workplace safety standards and is urging the federal safety agencies and Congress to consider establishing such a process to help update PELs. Hansen noted that developing these exposure limits through an open process will result in timely, workable protections reflecting the best scientific evidence and feasible technology.

"Stakeholders realize that revitalizing these standards will result in saved lives and improved health for workers," Hansen noted. "We need to move forward. Our ASSE members use PELs every day and understand their importance and the difficulties that result from not updating them."

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