Federal safety authorities have failed to enforce a law requiring manufacturers of coal-slag abrasive to disclose levels of beryllium in their product, consumer advocate Public Citizen contends.
|Beryllium is found in abrasive blast media made from coal slag.|
“Manufacturers of coal-slag abrasive are failing to report their product's beryllium exposure risks,” Public Citizen’s Justin Feldman wrote in a letter Jan. 19 to Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforcement director Thomas Galassi.
“This omission denies abrasive blasting workers their right to know about hazardous exposures as established under 29 CFR 1910.1200(a), OSHA's hazard communication standard.”
Feldman asked that OSHA “inform these manufacturers of their legal obligation to disclose beryllium hazards on material safety data sheets (MSDS) and take enforcement action if the companies fail to comply.”
Neither Feldman nor Galassi responded to requests for additional information and comment.
Beryllium is a metal found in mineral rocks, coal, soil, and volcanic dust. Lung damage has been observed in people exposed to high levels of beryllium in the air, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Up to 15% of all people occupationally exposed to beryllium in the air become sensitive to beryllium and may develop chronic beryllium disease (CBD), an irreversible and sometimes fatal scarring of the lungs, according to the ATSDR.
Material Safety Data Sheets are covered by OSHA’s hazard communication standard, which spells out employers’ responsibility for disclosing hazardous chemicals and training workers in their use.
Public Citizen has been urging OSHA for years to take a tougher stance on beryllium exposure in the workplace. In the fall, the group issued a report, OSHA Inaction: which said that OSHA’s rulemaking ability had become “paralyzed” and that the agency was not promulgating the rules needed to protect workers.
Currently, worker exposure to beryllium is covered by standards for general industry.
Standard on Hold
In 2002, OSHA laid the groundwork for a beryllium exposure standard by publishing a Request for Information related to occupational exposure to beryllium. That request noted that the use of beryllium began in the military and nuclear industries, but had spread to general industry for other applications, including abrasive blasting.
OSHA convened a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act and completed that report in January 2008. OSHA also completed a scientific peer review of its draft risk assessment in 2010. However, an economic peer review, due to be finished in May 2011, is not yet complete, according to OSHA.
The OSHA Inaction report, written by Feldman, contended that the delay on a beryllium standard had led to more than 10,000 preventable cases of beryllium sensitization, chronic beryllium disease, and lung cancer.
‘Do the Right Thing’
“Dozens of blasting workers die each year from beryllium exposure,” Feldman said last week in urging OSHA to compel new beryllium disclosures. “If OSHA just enforces the rules that are already on the books, it will save lives.”