A consumer advocacy organization is criticizing OSHA for making “little to no progress” on limiting workers’ exposure to beryllium, a substance which is considered an occupational carcinogen by NIOSH. In addition to lung cancer, beryllium has been associated with death due to pulmonary edema and heart failure and damage to the heart, kidney, liver and spleen.

 It is used in metalwork, electronics manufacturing, nuclear energy and laboratories that work with nuclear materials.

Public Citizen says the agency “has failed to take any concrete steps since last year on limiting workers’ exposure to the toxic substance beryllium and has no plans to do so anytime soon.”

OSHA is continuing its review of evidence relating to beryllium’s health effects, but the final phase of the limit-setting process, an economic peer review, was supposed to be completed by May 2011.

Ten years have passed since Public Citizen first petitioned OSHA to reduce the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of beryllium from its current level of 2 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) to 0.2 ug/m3.

 “The current standard is based on an analysis conducted more than 60 years ago; it is outdated and does not protect the health of workers,” said Justin Feldman, Public Citizen’s worker health and safety advocate. “The U.S. Department of Energy realized this when, in 2000, it enacted a standard of 0.2 ug/m3 in all its facilities. OSHA has yet to follow suit.”

Added Dr. Sammy Almashat, health researcher with Public Citizen, “It is unacceptable that, with more than 30,000 workers’ lives potentially at stake, the agency is taking far too long to conclude its review.”

Public Citizen called on OSHA to “move much more quickly to complete its analysis and issue a final rule that brings its standard in line with current evidence. OSHA has dragged its feet on the issue for too long, leaving tens of thousands of workers exposed to this toxic substance at levels ten times higher than allowed for DOE workers.”

More information on Public Citizen can be found at: www.citizen.org.