OSHA Cuts It Close for Revised Rule on Hexavalent Chromium

OSHA finally will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium in the Oct. 4 Federal Register. The agency first vowed to update the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for the chemical more than 10 years ago and in 2003 was ordered by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to complete a proposed standard by Oct. 4, 2004 and a final standard by Jan. 18, 2006.

Public Citizen and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) sued OSHA in 2002 in an attempt to force the agency to issue a new, lower worker exposure limit for hexavalent chromium. OSHA is proposing three separate standards that cover exposure to hexavalent chromium : one each for general industry, construction and shipyards. The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed standards until Jan. 3, 2005.

"The risks involved in the occupational use of hexavalent chromium can be serious and potentially life-threatening," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "This proposed rule is both economically and technologically feasible, and will substantially reduce the risk to workers potentially exposed to hexavalent chromium."

OSHA is proposing to lower its permissible exposure limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium and all its compounds in construction, shipyards and general industry from 52 to 1 microgram of hexavalent chromium per cubic meter of air as an 8-hour time weighted average. The proposed rule also includes provisions for employee protection such as preferred methods for controlling exposure, respiratory protection, protective work clothing and equipment, hygiene areas and practices, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping.

Hexavalent chromium compounds are widely used in the chemical industry in pigments, metal plating and chemical synthesis as ingredients and catalysts. It can also be produced when welding on stainless steel or hexavalent chromium-painted surfaces. The major health effects associated with exposure to hexavalent chromium include lung cancer, asthma, nasal septum ulcerations and perforations, skin ulcerations (or chrome holes) and allergic and irritant contact dermatitis.

Comments, whether submitted by mail, fax or electronically, must be sent by Jan. 3, 2005. Three copies of written comments must be sent to the Docket Office, Docket H054A, Room N-2625, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C., 20210. Comments of 10 pages or fewer can be faxed to the OSHA Docket Office at (202) 693-1648. Comments can be submitted electronically at http://ecomments.osha.govecomments.osha.gov. Major provisions of the general industry, construction and maritime standards are outlined in a fact sheet on the OSHA Web site.

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