Industry panel: Silica rule compliance carries $8.6 billion price tag

Source: American Chemistry Council, Washington, D.C.

The American Chemistry Council Crystalline Silica Panel, whose 16 members include Lafarge North America, Vulcan Materials Co., James Hardie Building Products and the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, resolutely questions the basis for the OSHA-proposed halving of the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to respirable crystalline silica.

Calling the cut to the current PEL the wrong regulatory approach, and an action that will cost American businesses in excess of $8.6 billion annually, the Panel summarized objections upon the February 11 close of OSHA’s public comment period for the proposed rule changes:

“The Panel is committed to the prevention of adverse health effects associated with the inhalation of excessive amounts of respirable crystalline silica. The best available science, to our understanding, shows that the current OSHA PEL for quartz of 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air is appropriate to protect against silica-related disease, provided it is adhered to strictly. Accordingly, achieving full compliance with, and enforcement of, the current PEL for general industry is the best way to protect silica-exposed workers.

“Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show a greater than 90 percent reduction in the silicosis mortality rate from 1968 to 2010, demonstrating the effectiveness of the current PEL since its adoption in 1971 as well as improvements in industrial hygiene practices. While cases of silicosis still exist, the Panel believes that the current PEL is both appropriate to protect workers and is an enforceable limit, and that the cases of silicosis that still occur result from non-compliance with the current PEL. Accordingly, the Panel does not believe there is a need for a new crystalline silica standard with a reduced PEL.

“While compliance with the current PEL is required and necessary to continue the reduction in silicosis, reducing the PEL is not. OSHA compliance sampling over several recent decades shows a non-compliance rate with the current PEL in excess of 30 percent. Moreover, attempting to comply with the sharply reduced PEL presents enormous feasibility challenges for the many job-producing sectors where silica exposures may occur, such as construction, foundries and a host of other industrial fields. Furthermore, it is unclear how the proposed PEL could be enforced given that serious questions remain about the ability of laboratories to measure silica exposures accurately and reliably at such low concentrations.

“The Panel, therefore, does not believe there is a need to reduce the existing PEL for crystalline silica in general industry. We continue to support reasonable and appropriate monitoring or other exposure assessments and medical surveillance of employees who are potentially exposed to significant levels of crystalline silica.”