Is OSHA Contemplating a Rulemaking for Beryllium?

Nov. 25, 2002
OSHA is asking for public comment about the health effects of beryllium, possibly as a precurser for a standard or guidance to limit exposure to the toxic metal, which is used in the aerospace, nuclear and manufacturing industries.

Beryllium, a lightweight metal found in coal, oil, certain rock minerals, volcanic dust and soil, can cause lung cancer and skin disease.

"We know there's an association between adverse health effects and exposure to this metal," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "We've published two hazard information bulletins on the topic just in the past three years. To determine the best future course of action to take, we need to obtain as much information as we can on the many complex issues related to health effects, current uses and employee exposures to this metal. The best way to do that is to provide interested members of the public an opportunity to be heard on these issues."

The agency is asking for comments and information from the public to help determine the best way to address occupational exposures to beryllium. The request for information is scheduled to be published in the Nov. 26 Federal Register.

OSHA's current general industry standard sets a permissible exposure limit for beryllium at two micrograms per cubic meter of air for an 8-hour time-weighted average or five micrograms per cubic meter of air not to exceed 30 minutes at a time. OSHA says employees should never be exposed to more than 25 micrograms of the metal, regardless of how short the exposure.

OSHA's request for information covers numerous topics including employee exposure, health effects, risk assessment, exposure assessment and monitoring methods, control measures and technological feasibility, economic impacts, employee training, medical surveillance, and environmental and small business impacts.

At least one company involved in the production or distribution of beryllium products, Brush Wellman Inc., says it welcomes OSHA's request for information. The company, headquartered in Cleveland, supplies worldwide markets with beryllium products, alloy products, electronic products, precious metal products, and engineered material systems.

We commend OSHA for its thorough and thoughtful approach in addressing worker protection associated with the production of beryllium," said Marc Kolanz, vice president, Environmental, Health and Safety, Brush Wellman. "Responses to the questions posed by OSHA in this request for information should help fill the existing data gaps regarding the best way to protect people working with this material. The agency has appropriately recognized the need for up-to-date scientific information in a number of important areas, including the significance of how measuring beryllium exposures based on particle size and chemical form may affect worker health."

For the past four years, Brush Wellman has been in a formal research partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop the scientific knowledge that will help prevent beryllium-related health effects. In addition to the active collaboration, Brush Wellman has provided NIOSH with access to Brush Wellman employees and work sites for independent research. Currently, this work includes studies of genetic risk factors for beryllium sensitization and disease, and an examination of the relationship between genetic and environmental factors.

"We believe our cooperative research efforts with NIOSH are generating the scientific information that will assist OSHA toward well-considered action regarding occupational exposure to beryllium," added Kolanz.

Comments must be submitted by Feb. 24, 2003.

To submit comments by regular mail, express delivery, hand delivery or messenger service, send three copies and attachments to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. H005C, Room N2625, Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20210. You may also fax comments (10 pages or fewer) to OSHA's Docket Office at (202) 693-1648. Include the docket number in your comments. Finally, comments may be submitted electronically through the Internet at .

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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