New Level for Chromium Exposure Too High, Consumer Group Says
WASHINGTON, DC -- March 3, 2006 -- The government's new standard for workers' exposure to hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI) or chromium 6) has disappointed and outraged consumer groups that had hoped for stricter limits on the cancer-causing metal. Formerly, workers could be legally exposed to 52 micrograms of chromium per cubic meter of air per 8-hour shift. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reduced the permissible exposure level (PEL) to 5 micrograms per 8-hour shift, this level is still too high to protect workers. Up to 45 employees per 1,000 who are exposed to chromium will die of lung cancer at the new level, according to OSHA's own statistics (Federal Register: Volume 71, Number 39, 10099-10385).
Issued in 1971, the original 52 microgram standard was based on chromium's ability to damage skin and nasal passages. Although chromium exposure has been linked to lung cancer for at least 50 years, cancer was not taken into account in setting the standard.
In 2004, in response to a court order, OSHA began the process of revising the standard and proposed a PEL of 1 microgram of chromium per 8-hour shift. The order was the result of a lawsuit by the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (now part of United Steelworkers) and the consumer group, Public Citizen. Public Citizen has been campaigning for a standard of 0.25 micrograms since 1993.
The Chromium Industry's History of Subterfuge
Chromium is used in chrome plating, stainless steel welding, pigment production, dye production and electroplating. The new standard applies to about 558,000 workers in general industries, construction and shipyards ( Press Release, OSHA, February 27, 2006).
The chromium industry withheld study data that supported stricter limits on chromium in the workplace, according to an article in the journal, Environmental Health. The industry undertook a study of workers at four low-exposure chromium plants, but did not make the results available to OSHA in a timely manner, the paper said. Workers faced an increased lung cancer risk even at low levels of chromium exposure, according to the original chromium industry study. However, the industry study researchers then divided the results into two parts, which they published separately, so as to confuse the results, the authors of the journal article charged.
"The circumstances regarding this [industry] study raise troubling questions about the ability of the government to effectively issue rules protecting public health when studies are conducted, controlled and selectively published or provided to the rulemaking agency by the regulated industry," said Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group and co-author of the journal article (Press Release, Public Citizen, February 23, 2006). "Corporate America loves to decry what it calls 'junk science,' but there's no question that the industry was the producer of the junk in this case."
Public Citizen Threatens New Chromium Lawsuit
Both Public Citizen and the United Steelworkers have threatened to go back to court to get the 5 microgram standard lowered (Press Release, Public Citizen, February 27, 2006). "OSHA's decision guarantees that many more workers will get lung cancer," said Michael Wright of the United Steelworkers (Press Release, United Steelworkers, February 28, 2006). "We had to go to court to force OSHA to set a new chromium standard in the first place," he continued. "It looks like we will have to go back to court to get a standard that truly protects workers."
Exposure to Toxic Substances
Brayton Purcell has been successfully handling cases concerning exposure to chromium, beryllium, asbestos and other toxic substances for over 20 years. Please feel free to contact us if you have been injured by a harmful substance, and would like more information. We will evaluate your case free of charge and advise you of your legal options.