At a hearing that took place on February 27, 2018, in Washington, D.C., Congressman Bobby Scott asked Former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Secretary and Beryllium medical expert, Dr. Michaels, why the Federal Beryllium Rule has not yet been implemented, and to identify safe alternatives for the surface preparation market. Dr. Michaels not only recommended crushed glass abrasives, but he also shared one of the largest abrasive users in the United States, Newport News Shipyard, has converted from coal slag to crushed glass due to the potential health risks.

“Beryllium is an amazing metal, its stronger than steel but lighter than aluminium,” Dr. Michaels began, “but it causes it causes chronic Beryllium disease, which is a chronic and sometimes fatal lung disease, and it is also a carcinogen – it causes lung cancer.”

The standard was last updated in January 2017, and originally instated by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1948. “It was actually a standard written for the nuclear weapons industry to [prevent] acute Beryllium disease, which sees people dying after a short exposure time”, he said at the hearing. It was called the Taxi Cab Standard, after a discussion held in the back seat of a taxi by two AEC scientists where they figured out a level of exposure that will prevent deaths from occurring. “That number was effective in 1948 for these acute cases, but not for preventing chronic Beryllium disease,” noted Dr. Michaels.

The updated 2017 OSHA Beryllium Standard was born out of a negotiated relationship between the steelworkers union and a primary Beryllium producer. Following the submission of a proposal from the union, the OSHA questioned whether it should cover maritime work places as Beryllium is associated with abrasive blasting. The maritime industry stated that the permissible exposure limit should be increased.

The standard for shipyards would maintain the requirements for exposure limits (permissible exposure limit of 0.2 μg/m3 and short-term exposure limit of 2.0 μg/m3), which will continue to protect workers from a serious beryllium-related lung disease known as chronic beryllium disease. The standard instead revises the application of ancillary provisions such as housekeeping and personal protective equipment.

However, the proposed rule was not without its opposition. “After the standard came out, we heard that the blasting materials manufacturers, primarily a company call Harsco that make coal slag, (which is used as abrasive blasting and the coal slag is contaminated with Beryllium) that they would be affected,” said Dr Michaels.

“Frankly this is a market question. There are other materials that can be used as abrasives.”

When asked what safer materials are available that can be used as abrasives, Dr. Michaels responded: “Well, glass. Recycled glass can be used as an abrasive material. Many employers have already shifted.  In fact, one of the largest users of abrasive materials in the country, the Newport News Shipyard – in your District Mr. Scott – has already stopped using coal slag and has moved to glass as an abrasive.”

Crushed glass abrasives, such as those offered by Tru Abrasives, is made from 100% recycled glass and is non-reactive. These alternatives container no toxix metals such as Beryllium that can be found in slags.

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7th Mar 2018

7th March 2018