OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.

October 29, 1984

Honorable Mike DeWine
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 205l5

Dear Congressman DeWine:

Thank you for your letter of September 6 on behalf of your constituent, Mr. Scott Shaffner, who had questions concerning the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Lead Standard.

In 1970, Congress created OSHA and delegated to it the responsibility for protecting the health and safety of American workers. In 1978, on the basis of mounting evidence regarding the adverse health effects of lead in the body, OSHA lowered the permissible airborne lead exposure limit (PEL) to 50 ug/m(3) and established limits for the maximum amount of lead to be permitted in employees' blood. These limits were established to reduce the risk of development of serious, chronic health effects as well as to prevent acute lead intoxication.

In addition to establishing the PEL, OSHA also included temporary medical removal protection (MRP) provisions to insure that immediate action would be taken to reduce the exposures of individual workers with elevated blood lead levels. Since immediate imposition of most appropriate MRP removal and return triggers would have been too disruptive to the labor force in major industry segments, OSHA phased in the MRP provisions in four steps over a five-year period. The first phase required removal of employees having blood lead levels at or above 80 ug/100 m1 of whole blood and permitted return when levels were reduced to 60 ug/100 m1. The second phase, which became effective on March 1, 1980, required removal at 70 ug/100 m1 and permitted return at 50 ug/100 m1. On March 1, 1981, the third phase required removal at 60 ug/100 m1 and permitted return at 40 ug/100 m1. As of March 1, 1983, the final phase requires employee removal when the average of the last three blood lead test results, or the average of all test results over the previous six months, exceeds 50 ug/100 m1, and permits return at 40 ug/100 m1.

Compliance with both the PEL and the blood lead levels is considered feasible in most industries. However, OSHA does provide a relief mechanism, through the filing of a variance application, for employers who are unable to comply with the standards. Firms that are able to demonstrate the infeasibility of complying with the 50 ug/100 m1 removal trigger have been granted interim orders and temporary variances from the current standard.

Some of the points made by Mr. Shaffner appear to be based on misinformation. Mr. Shaffner's claim that OSHA's most recent removal trigger of 50 ug/100 m(1) on an average is less than the blood lead levels of those who do not work in foundries is incorrect. In fact, average adult blood lead levels are less than 20 ug/100 m1. While Mr. Shaffner claims that neither he nor his coworkers appear to exhibit signs or symptoms of lead poisoning, there is scientific and medical evidence that prolonged excess exposures resulting in blood lead levels above 50 ug/100 m1 greatly increase the probability that workers will suffer irreversible health effects. These effects may include kidney damage and peripheral and central nervous system damage.

For further information, we have enclosed a copy of the OSHA lead standard which provides supporting documentation for the feasibility of complying with the PEL and medical removal protection provisions.

We hope that this background information on the standard will be helpful to you in responding to Mr. Shaffner. If we can be of further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.


R. Leonard Vance, Ph.D.
Health Standards Programs


Dear Sirs:

I would like to know why a Federal agency like OSHA can tell people where they can work and where they can't.

I work for DAB Industries, Bellefontaine, Ohio. We make bearings for automobiles. I work in the foundry, where there is high lead contamination. I have worked there for over 16 years. I have never exceeded the lead standards until now.

When I started at DAB the standard for lead contamination in the blood was 70 milligrams. Now OSHA has lowered the standard to 50 milligrams and this amount is lower than most people on the outside carry in their blood. There are about 100 people in the department and some have worked as long as 25 or 30 years. No one has ever got lead poisoning or been sick. The standards now are so low that most of the men cannot stay in the department. I think it is against my constitutional rights to be told where and when I can work. When the lead standards were 60 milligrams, it was a lot easier to maintain under 60 than it is to maintain under 50. I had to be moved to a job that I didn't ask for until my lead is 40 or below through 2 blood tests. OSHA says it is for my own good. How can they say it is for my own good, when they don't know what is good for me. I would to know if this a free country or if I have to work a job just because OSHA says so. The company has tried hard to meet OSHA standards which is almost impossible. OSHA, itself, says this standard is too low but at the present time they are not going to do anything about it. I would like to know if there is anything you can do for me. I don't think it is right to force a company and the people who work there to follow standards by someone (OSHA) who does not seem to know what they are doing. We have never had any lead poisoning in the shop at the higher standards. About all the people in the department thinks the standards should be raised to at least 60 milligrams. I know there has to be lead standard, but why so low? I would appreciate some answers to this inquiry.

Sincerely yours,

Scott Shaffner
1049 N. Russell St.
Urbana, Ohio 43078