The federal government is proposing a new standard that would dramatically lower workplace exposure to beryllium, a widely used material that can cause devastating lung diseases. The proposal would apply to an estimated 35,000 workers covered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Beryllium is mined and processed by extraction from Beryl and emerald. Beryllium is used for missiles, spacecraft, x-rays, computers, and alloys.
Currently, OSHA’s eight-hour permissible exposure limit for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Above that level, employers must take steps to reduce the airborne concentration of beryllium. That standard was originally established in 1948 by the Atomic Energy Commission and adopted by OSHA in 1971.
OSHA’s proposed standard would reduce the eight-hour permissible exposure limit to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter. The proposed rule would also require additional protections, including personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training.
OSHA estimates that the rule could prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year. Workers who inhale beryllium particles can develop a debilitating, incurable illness known as chronic beryllium disease, and are also at increased risk of lung cancer. Dangers arise when beryllium-containing materials are processed in a way that releases airborne beryllium dust, fume, mist or other forms.