OSHA and the Labor Department reduced the acceptable levels of workplace exposure to hexavalent chromium to no more than 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Although a significant reduction from the 52 micrograms per cubic meter of air, specified in the old standard, critics said it is five times higher than what had been proposed by the agency two years ago, and still leaves thousands of workers at risk.
Hexavalent chromium is used in chrome plating, stainless steel welding and the production of chromate pigments and dyes. An estimated 558,000 workers, from welders and steelworkers to jewelers, are exposed to its airborne particles that have been linked to lung cancer.
In a conference call with reporters, Jonathan Snare, acting assistant secretary for occupational safety and health at the department said the standard would cost industry $282 million a year to implement, but would result in the avoidance of 100 to 145 cancers a year among the nearly 67,000 workers that currently are exposed to airborne levels of hexavalent chromium of more than 5 micrograms. About 88 percent of the workers are in workplaces where airborne levels already meet or exceed the new standard.
"We understand and acknowledge there is remaining significant risk at the new PEL," said Snare.