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The problem is that permissible exposure limits (PELs) for many chemicals are “dangerously out of date, dating from the 1970s or even earlier and do not adequately protect workers,” according to OSHA Chief Dr. David Michaels. In a press conference, Michaels explained that the rulemaking process is complex and makes it difficult to keep chemical regulations updated.

In response, the agency has developed two strategies for dealing with the PEL problem. Both are available online at no charge. The first is a toolkit to identify safer chemicals that can be used in place of more hazardous ones. The content walks employers and employees through information, methods, tools, and guidance to either eliminate hazardous chemicals or make informed substitutions.

The revised tables provide a side-by-side comparison of OSHA PELs for general industry to NIOSH recommended exposure limits (RELs), California OSHA PELs, and threshold limit values (TLVs) developed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. For many chemicals, the alternate exposure limits listed in the annotated PEL tables are significantly lower than OSHA’s PELs. For example, while respirable quartz, a form of crystalline silica, has an OSHA PEL of 10 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3), Cal/OSHA’s PEL is 0.1 mg/m3, and NIOSH’s REL is 0.05 mg/m3. OSHA currently has a proposal to cut its PEL for silica in half, but even its proposed lower PEL would be higher than the alternate exposure limits listed in the annotated PEL tables.

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