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Industrial Hygiene and Safety
IN THIS ISSUE: EPA Can Now Regulate Worker Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals
On June 7, 2016, Congress passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. This the first time the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has been substantively amended since its enactment in 1976. The original act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to regulate the introduction of new or already existing chemicals.
What is significant for safety professionals and employers is that the EPA is required to address chemical impacts on workers. Workers are among the designated groups the amended law designates as potentially susceptible or more highly exposed. The EPA now has up to three years to complete the TSCA risk evaluations, a change from the old law, which did not require the agency to assess chemicals already in use.
Since 1970, OSHA has been the government agency with the authority to limit employee chemical exposures. However, most OSHA permissible exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace are outdated, and the agency has proposed only four such limits in the past 20 years, specifically for chlorides, chromium, silica, and beryllium. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a National Occupational Exposure Survey, a comprehensive inventory of chemical exposures at U.S. workplaces from 1981 to 1983 but the project was never repeated. It is still used as a data source even though workplaces have changed significantly.
If the EPA does conduct the required risk evaluations, it can rely on OSHA surveillance information. Over the years, compliance health inspectors have conducted thousands of workplace inspections. These can provide useful information about use and affects of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. It remains to be seen if the EPA will be the key government agency in setting occupational exposure standards in the future. This may be a significant step in protecting US workers from the many harmful chemicals used in the workplace.
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