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Proposed berylliuim standard would lower PEL, increase worker protections

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed an overhaul of its beryllium standard.

Under the current standard adopted in 1971, the eight-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The proposed standard would reduce the eight-hour PEL to 0.2 micrograms/cubic meter. It also would require changes in personal protective equipment, medical surveillance exams and training policies.

Materion, a leading beryllium product manufacturer, and the United Steelworkers jointly suggested adoption of a stronger standard in 2012.

OSHA said the revised rule would cover about 35,000 workers and could prevent an estimated 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year. Workers who inhale beryllium particles can develop a debilitating, incurable illness known as chronic beryllium disease, and they are at increased risk of lung cancer.

The majority of beryllium exposures occur in foundry and smelting operations, machining, beryllium oxide ceramics and composites manufacturing, and dental lab work. Beryllium also is an essential component of nuclear weapons. The Department of Labor has paid more than $500 million in compensation to nearly 2,500 former or current nuclear weapons workers who developed chronic beryllium disease.

The proposed rule was published in the Aug. 7 edition of the Federal Register.