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OSHA Proposes a New Standard for Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds

Pieretti Posted by Luis Pieretti, PhD, CIH, CSP

On August 7, 2015, OSHA provided a notice for a proposed rule for Occupational Exposure to Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds. It should be noted that this process did not start in 2015 but on November 26, 2002. This proposed rule not only updates the current permissible exposure limit but creates a specific standard.

What is berryllium?

What is beryllium? Beryllium is a naturally occurring metal. It can be found in rocks, soil, coal and volcanic dust. Beryllium compounds may include beryllium oxide, beryllium carbonate, beryllium sulfate, beryllium nitrate, beryllium hydroxide, beryllium chloride, beryllium fluoride, and beryllium phosphate.                                                             

The Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the National Toxicology Program and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) have classified beryllium as a human carcinogen. Beryllium particles and fumes can cause sensitization for employees, which can create the conditions for chronic beryllium disease or CBD. CBD symptoms include cough, loss of weight, fevers, night sweats, and it could become fatal .

Where is it present in the workplace?

Due to beryllium’s physical properties, it can be found in the aerospace, defense, telecommunications, automotive, electronics, and medical specialty industries. Beryllium can also be found as a trace metal in materials such as aluminum ore, abrasive blasting grit and coal fly ash. For example, it can be found in medical equipment ceramics, lasers, semiconductors, transistors, heat sinks, x-ray windows, and communication equipment among other products.

What is the current standard and what is the proposed?

The current permissible occupational exposure limit for beryllium is 2 μg/m3. This exposure limit was established by OSHA when they adopted the ANSI national consensus standard in the 1970s (ANSI Z37.29-1970). But the exposure limit of 2 μg/m3 was first established by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1949. Yes, 1949, and this exposure limit is most likely based in data and studies prior to that year. In 1975, OSHA tried to lower the permissible exposure limit to 1 μg/m3 but the process was never completed. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the ACGIH continued updating its recommended guidelines as new information became available.

The proposed rule would lower the permissible exposure limit to 0.2 μg/m3 or 10 times lower than the current limit. It also proposes requiring employers, to whom this standard may apply, to make assessments of employee’s exposure to beryllium, develop medical surveillance requirements, and require methods of control, training, and record keeping. For more information, please visit OSHA’s website. 

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 https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/beryllium/index.html  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3822.pdf  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/08/07/2015-17596/occupational-exposure-to-beryllium-and-beryllium-compounds#h-223  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3821.pdf

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