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1996. PERMISSIBLE EXPOSURE LIMITS (PELS) FOR AIR CONTAMINANTS
Priority: Economically Significant. Major under 5 USC 801.
Unfunded Mandates: This action may affect the private sector under PL 104-4.
Legal Authority: 29 USC 655 (b)
CFR Citation: 29 CFR 1910.1000
Legal Deadline: None
Abstract: OSHA enforces hundreds of permissible exposure limits (PELs) for toxic air contaminants found in U.S. workplaces. These PELs set OSHA-enforceable limits on the magnitude and duration of employee exposure to each contaminant. The amount of exposure permitted by a given PEL depends on the toxicity and other characteristics of the particular substance. OSHA's PELs for air contaminants are codified in 29 CFR 1910.1000, Tables Z-1, Z-2, and Z-3. The air contaminant limits were adopted by OSHA in 1971 from existing national consensus standards issued by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists and the American National Standards Institute. These PELs, which have not been updated since 1971, thus reflect the results of research conducted in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then, much new information has become available that indicates that, in most cases, these early limits are outdated and insufficiently protective of worker health. To correct this situation, OSHA published a proposal in 1988 updating the air contaminant limits in general industry. That proposal became a final rule in 1989 (54 FR 2332); it lowered the existing PEL for 212 toxic air contaminants and established PELs for 164 previously unregulated air contaminants. On June 12, 1992 (57 FR 26001), OSHA proposed a rule that would have extended these limits to workplaces in the construction, maritime, and agriculture industries. However, on July 10, 1992, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the 1989 final rule on the grounds that "(1) OSHA failed to establish that existing exposure limits in the workplace presented significant risk of material health impairment or that new standards eliminated or substantially lessened the risk; (2) OSHA did not meet its burden of establishing that its 428 new permissible exposure limits (PELs) were either economically or technologically feasible." The Court's decision to vacate the rule forced the Agency to return to the earlier, insufficiently protective limits.
OSHA continues to believe that establishing a rulemaking approach that will permit the Agency to update existing air contaminant limits and establish new ones as toxicological evidence of the need to do so becomes available is a high priority. The rulemaking described in this Regulatory Plan entry reflects OSHA's intention to move forward with this process. In determining how to proceed, OSHA is being guided by the OSH Act and the Eleventh District Court decision regarding the extent of the risk and feasibility analyses required to support revised and new air contaminant limits. The Agency will rely on a risk-based prioritization system to identify those air contaminants that present significant risks to exposed employees and for which technologically and economically feasible controls exist. State-of-the-art risk assessment methodologies will be utilized for both carcinogens and noncarcinogens, and the determinations of feasibility contained in the economic analysis accompanying the proposal will be extensive. OSHA published (61 FR 1947) the substances selected for proposed new PELs for the first update of the air contaminants rule: carbon disulfide, carbon monoxide, chloroform, dimethyl sulfate, epichlorohydrin, ethylene dichloride, glutaraldehyde, n-hexane, 2-hexanone, hydrazine, hydrogen sulfide, manganese and compounds, mercury and compounds, nitrogen dioxide, perchloroethylene, sulfur dioxide, toluene, toluene diisocyanate, trimellitic anhydride, and vinyl bromide. The specific hazards associated with the air contaminants preliminarily selected for regulation include cancer, neurotoxicity, respiratory sensitivity, etc. Using the same criteria as those used in the Priority Planning Process, OSHA evaluated each substance: severity of the health effect, the number of exposed workers, toxicity of the substance, uses and prevailing exposure levels of the substance, the potential risk reduction, availability and quality of information useful in quantitative risk assessment to ensure that significant risks are addressed and that workers will experience substantial benefits in the form of enhanced health and safety. Publication of the proposal will allow OSHA to institutionalize a mechanism for updating and extending its air contaminant limits, which will, at the same time, provide added protection to many workers who are currently being overexposed to toxic substances in the workplace. OSHA is also considering supplemental mechanisms proposed by stakeholders to increase the effectiveness of the process.
Small Entities Affected: Undetermined
Government Levels Affected: Undetermined
Additional Information: During the rulemaking, OSHA will meet with small business stakeholders to discuss their concerns, and will conduct an initial Regulatory Flexibility Screening Analysis to identify any significant impacts on a substantial number of small entities.
Agency Contact: Adam Finkel, Director, Health Standards Programs,
Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 200
Constitution Avenue NW., Room N3718, FP Building, Washington, DC 20210
Phone: 202 219-7075
Fax: 202 219-7125
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