Issue Date: March 6, 2006
Curbing Exposure To A Carcinogen
Federal regulators last week ratcheted down the allowable amount of on-the-job exposure workers can receive from carcinogenic hexavalent chromium and compounds containing this form of the metal.
The new standard is 5 mg/m3 of air and "is the lowest level that is technologically and economically feasible" for businesses to meet, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration said in announcing the rule on Feb. 28. OSHA was under a federal court order to issue the standard.
More than half-a-million U.S. workers are exposed to Cr6+ and substances containing it, according to OSHA. These substances are used in the chemical industry as ingredients in pigments and in catalysts for chemical synthesis. They are also widely used in metal plating and can be released during the welding of stainless steel.
The old standard, 52 mg/m3 of air, was recommended in 1943 by the American National Standards Institute to prevent perforations caused by chromium in workers' nasal cavities. When OSHA was formed in 1971, the agency adopted this limit.
Many in industry see the new standard as too tough to meet cost-effectively. Meanwhile, advocates for workers believe that it is not protective enough and will lead to extra deaths from lung cancer. Public Citizen says it will sue OSHA to tighten the exposure limit further.
OSHA unveiled the new exposure limit just days after a report in the journal Environmental Health charged the chromium industry with withholding information about the health risks of workers exposed to Cr6+. Researchers at George Washington University and Public Citizen unearthed data from an industry-sponsored study that they say could have swayed OSHA to set a limit lower than 5 mg/m3. The chromium industry denies any wrongdoing.
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