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 https://www.osha.gov.

August 11, 1994

                       FEDERAL STATE OPERATIONS
                       REGION VII

FROM:                   RUTH E. McCULLY, DIRECTOR

SUBJECT:                Interpretation on the Cadmium Standard with Respect 
                       to Interpreting Air Sampling Data for Establishing 
                       Acceptable Work Areas for Medically Removed Workers

This is in response to your March 24 memorandum requesting an interpretation concerning how to interpret air sampling data for establishing acceptable work areas for medically removed workers for the Cadmium Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1027. This issue was raised by ASARCO, Inc. to the Denver Area Office. We apologize for the delay in our response.

In the company's request for an interpretation, they submitted personal air sampling data from its Litharge department. The company intends to establish this department as a clean work area for its medically removed cadmium workers. The company, in its letter to the Denver Area Office, stated that subsequent to the variance request submitted to OSHA in June 1993 one of the areas of the Litharge department had been shut down and thoroughly cleaned. The sampling data presented in the company's letter is from employee exposures occurring after the cadmium contamination had been removed from the Litharge department. The company's issue is that if sampled employee exposures from this work area shows statistically that at least 80% of the air sampling data is below the action level (AL), cadmium workers could be medically removed to this work area.

We have reviewed the request and have determined that the company's interpretation of the sampling data for establishing the Litharge department as a clean work area for medically removed cadmium workers is not consistent with the provision under 29 CFR 1910.1027(l) (ll)(iii) which states that "Where removal is based on any reason other than the employee's inability to wear a respirator, the employer shall remove the employee from work where exposure to cadmium is at or above the action level."

29 CFR 1910.1027(l)(11)(iii) is not based on the rationale that exposing a medically-removed employee at or above the AL for 20% of the time would be medically protective enough to prevent cadmium-induced illness. The intent of this provision is discussed in the preamble to the Cadmium standard. OSHA states that "In most cases in which a worker is removed for medical reasons, the standard provides for removal from work having an exposure to cadmium at or above the 2.5 g/m3 action level on any day. This limitation on the level of cadmium to which a removed worker can be exposed was selected based on three reasons:


To assure that the removed worker would not be exposed to cadmium at a level high enough to further increase the risk to his or her health;


To assure that the level of cadmium to which the removed worker might be exposed would be low enough to facilitate a net decrease in the employee's body burden of cadmium with the aim of restoring normal levels of cadmium in the measured compartments of the body, so that the employee could be returned to his or her former job status; and,


Where cadmium-induced disease or dysfunction has already occurred, to minimize further progression of the existing condition."

This provision requires the employer to provide medically-removed cadmium workers the fullest protection possible to prevent further cadmium-induced illness from occupational exposures. This means that these workers can only be removed to those work areas where the employer can ensure that their exposures are below the AL on any day. From the employer's air sampling data of worker exposures in the Litharge department, the employer has shown that medically removed cadmium workers could be exposed at or above the AL on any day and would not be provided the protection necessary to prevent further cadmium-induced illness.

March 24, 1994


                       Director, Office of Health Compliance Assistance

FROM:                   EDWARD J. KASSAK
                       ARA, FSO

SUBJECT:                Request for Interpretation on the Cadmium Standard

Please find attached a letter which the Denver Area Office received from ASCARCO, Inc. regarding an interpretation of the cadmium standard. The company is requesting that employees who are on medical removal for cadmium be allowed to work in the Litharge Department where lead is being fumed and ground. Cadmium exposure does exist in this department through contamination from other parts of the plant. However, as noted in the letter, cadmium is no longer being processed at this facility.

The cadmium levels in the Litharge Department are outlined in Table 1 of the ASARCO letter. As you will see, out of 15 samples taken, four were above the action level, and one of these was above the PEL. ASARCO is requesting that those employees on medical removal from cadmium be allowed to work in the Litharge Department since average exposure levels are below the action level.

As you will see, this letter has also been sent by ASARCO to the Office of Health Standards and the Office of Variances. A temporary variance was requested by the company on this similar issue in June of 1993. There is cadmium contamination throughout most, if not all, of the plant site.

We are requesting that you provide us with an interpretation of this matter. Since this issue could be precedent setting based on the reply, we felt it necessary to elevate it to your office. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact Mary Lynn of my staff at (303) 391-5858.

January 24, 1994

Mr. Herb Gibson
OSHA Denver Area Office



Dear Herb:

The purpose of this letter is to request an OSHA compliance interpretation that current cadmium exposure levels in the Litharge department of Asarco's Globe plant are below the OSHA Cadmium Action Level, and therefore that such area or any other area with similar exposure levels are suitable areas for employees on cadmium medical removal to work in.

As you are aware, ASARCO submitted a request for a temporary variance for the ASARCO Globe facility in June 1993. The reason for the variance application was to permit employees on medical removal for cadmium to continue to work in certain areas of the Globe plant that had relatively low airborne cadmium exposures but that nevertheless, still exceeded the OSHA Cadmium Action Level of 2.5 µg/m3.

Subsequent to this variance submittal, one of the areas (Litharge Department) has been shutdown and thoroughly cleaned. Litharge production itself does not entail any cadmium exposure and measurable cadmium concentrations were believed to be due to outside contamination from previously operated cadmium processing facilities. Additionally the last remaining cadmium processing facility (Retort Department) has ceased operations.

The results of all personal monitor sampling to date in the Litharge Department since cessation of the Retort Department operations and thorough cleaning of the Litharge Department are attached as Table 1.

As shown by the table and discussed in Mr. R. B. Watson's memorandum of January 19, 1994, the arithmetic mean cadmium concentration of 1.7 µg/m3 for the Litharge operator job classification is well below the OSHA Action Level. Only 4 of 15 samples obtained exceed the action level. Mr. Watson's calculations indicate that based (AL) is 0.8; i.e. there is only a 20% chance that any single sample result would exceed the action level.

When I discussed these findings with Mr. Steve Yellstrom of your office during a Petition for Modification of Abatement meeting on December 13, 1993, he suggested that I might want to request a compliance interpretation letter rather than a temporary variance.

The preamble to the OSHA Cadmium standard in 57 FR 42214 refers to average exposure levels in the feasibility discussion. In the discussion on technological feasibility found in the second column on page 42214, it is stated; "OSHA recognizes that some random fluctuation of exposure levels around the average does exist. As a result, employees will generally need to control exposure levels to an average somewhat below the limit to ensure that most of the fluctuations will not exceed the limit." (Italics added) Although this section also discusses variation due to other identifiable and controllable causes such as inadequate or improper engineering controls or work practices, the results in Table 1 do not meet such criteria.

In the third column of page 42214, OSHA discusses differences in perception between OSHA and commentors regarding what a feasible PEL is. The discussion indicates that some commentors assumed that a feasible PEL is one that would virtually never be exceeded and that such assumptions tended to highlight the feasibility problems and costs associated with compliance with a lower exposure limit. This discussion together with the previous discussion in the second column implies that compliance with the PEL is based on average results and such compliance allows exceedances of the PEL as long as most of the results are below the PEL.

Because OSHA has determined that the PEL of 5 µg/m3 is the lowest feasible level, which is necessary to protect employees from adverse health effects due to cadmium exposure, and the action level of 2.5 µg/m3 is defined by OSHA as one-half the PEL it follows that compliance with the action level should be determined in the same manner as compliance with the PEL. The data presented in Table 1 definitely indicate that personal sample results for cadmium in the Litharge Department are currently below the cadmium action level and therefore that employees on MRP for cadmium should be allowed to work as Litharge Operators. The same conclusion should also be reached for any other job classification with a similar distribution of cadmium-in-air data. I would appreciate your opinion on this issue.

Very truly yours,

Stanley G. Cothrin
Environmental Scientist