1800 East Oakton Street
Des Plaines, Illinois 60018-2187
FAX 847.296.3769

November 20, 2002

The Honorable John Henshaw
OSHA Docket Office
Room N-2625
Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20210

VIA FAX: 202/693-1648

RE: Docket No. H-0054a - Comments in Response to Request for Information on Occupational Exposure to Hexavalent Chromium

Dear Assistant Secretary Henshaw:

On behalf of its 30,000 member safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) offers the following comments in response to the August 22, 2002, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Request for Information (RFI) on possible steps to take to address the health effects of hexavalent chromium (HexChrom) on American workers (67 FR 54389).

The RFI represents a significant step in what ASSE hopes will be a concerted effort to address this occupational health risk either through revised permissible exposure limits (PELs) or other actions that can minimize exposure to HexChrome in the workplace. U.S. industry has used chromium for more than 100 years, and today chromium is a primary contaminant at over half of all Superfund hazardous waste sites.

Health Threat of HexChrom
It has been eighty years since researchers first observed that workers in the German chrome ore industry developed lung cancer more frequently than the rest of the population. Since then, many studies have shown that people who work around industrial processes using chromium have higher-than-normal rates of cancers. The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have each reviewed the epidemiological evidence and have classified HexChrome as a human carcinogen. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's Toxicological Profile for Chromium, published in September 2000, surveyed the literature and concluded that, "[t]he available human and animal data are sufficient for determining that chromium is carcinogenic following inhalation exposure." The American Conference for Governmental Hygienists also classifies water-insoluble and water-soluble Cr IV compounds, zinc chromate, and strontium chromate as class A1 (confirmed human) carcinogens.
Finally, the National Toxicology Program has found HexChrom to be an established human lung carcinogen in certain occupational settings, presumably as a result of inhalation exposure. Thus, this information must appear on Material Safety Data Sheets for products containing HexChrom, pursuant to OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. §1910.1200. Yet, despite all the existing evidence, there are still research needs concerning how chromium affects major organ systems in animals and humans, as well as the risks associated with various pathways of exposure.
Lowered PEL Needed

ASSE recognizes the necessity of lowering the existing PEL for HexChrom but has not made a determination as to what level would be appropriate, including whether the level recommended by labor interests who have sought an emergency standard (0.5 ug/m3 of air as an eight-hour, time-weighted average) is appropriate.

OSHA's current exposure limit for general industry was adopted in 1971 based on ANSI Z37.7-1971, which set a permissible exposure limit for HexChrom compounds at 100 ug/m3 as a ceiling concentration. This remains OSHA's PEL for general industry, codified at 29 CFR §1910.1000 Table Z. The current PEL for HexChrom (Chromium VI) in the construction industry is 100 ug/m3 as a TWA PEL, which also equates to a PEL of 52 ug/m3, codified at 29 CFR. §1926.55. OSHA has estimated that approximately one million workers are exposed to HexChrom on a regular basis in all industries. As many as 34 percent of workers could contract lung cancer if exposed to HexChrom at OSHA's current exposure limit for eight hours a day for 45 years, according to a study conducted for OSHA in 1995.

ASSE will not submit any toxicological or epidemiological data or studies in support of lowering the existing exposure limits to a specific value. However, the Society directs OSHA's attention to the materials filed in Public Citizen Health Research Group, and Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemicals & Energy Workers International Union v. Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (litigation now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit), which support a finding that HexChrom exposure limits must be lowered to prevent the pronounced adverse health effects demonstrated by numerous studies.

In addition to the long-term health effects and carcinogenicity of this substance, dermatological problems are common among construction and cement industry workers exposed to HexChrom through handling of materials containing the chemical. Therefore, although many of the scientific findings relate to occupational illnesses among the ferrous metals and welding trades, OSHA should not overlook the impact of such exposures in the construction industry when determining its regulatory path.

ASSE submits the following information, summarizing dermatological studies, which may be useful in evaluating actions to take to address these health conditions:

  1. HexChrom is commonly found in cement and has been identified as the most common cause of allergic dermatitis in construction workers. Numerous studies have demonstrated the feasibility of removing HexChrom by the addition of a very small amount of iron sulphate where Cr+6 is reduced to Cr+3 and is precipitated as insoluble chromium hydroxide. Prevention of Cement Dermatitis in Construction Workers With Iron Sulphate, Australian Journal of Dermatology, August 1986, Volume 27, Number 2.
  2. The chromate content of cement manufactured and sold in Denmark was reduced to approximately two (2) parts per million by adding ferrous sulfate. The reported increase in cost of the concrete attributed to the addition of the ferrous sulfate was approximately one (1) percent of the total cost. Prevalence of Cement Eczema in Denmark before and Since Addition of Ferrous Sulfate to Danish Cement. Acta Derm Veneriol (Stockh) 1989; 69:151-155.
  3. The number of construction workers having allergic eczema attributed to dermal exposure to cement decreased significantly as a result of the use of cements with low concentrations of water-soluble chromate. Risk Factors for Cement Eczema. Contact Dermatitis, January 1991:25:81-88.

New Health Standard Needed

In any action that OSHA takes concerning HexChrom, its determinations should be based on sound science that considers both the best available evidence and the typical workplace exposures that are likely to occur in various industry sectors. ASSE's view is that the evidence and the likely exposures point to the need for a revision of HexChrom exposure limits to be considered within the broader context of an independent, expanded health standard -- in much the same way OSHA regulates other known human carcinogens including asbestos, cadmium, benzene, and methylene chloride.

Arguably, HexChrom is as ubiquitous in industry as are the other heavy metals regulated by OSHA under substance-specific health standards for substances deemed human carcinogens. Due to the multiple and pronounced adverse health effects caused by chronic and acute HexChrom exposure, it may be necessary for OSHA to promulgate an expanded health standard (for general industry and construction) that addresses these adverse health effects (i.e. skin lesions, nasal septum ulcerations, lung cancer, etc.), and to take a systematic approach including exposure monitoring, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, employee training and medical monitoring and surveillance.

Section 3(8) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act ("the Act") defines an occupational safety and health standard as, "a standard which requires conditions, or the adoption or use of one or more practices, means, methods, operations, or processes, reasonably necessary or appropriate to provide safe or healthful employment and places of employment." Given the significant number of adverse health affects unquestionably attributed to chronic and acute exposure to HexChrom, combined with the metal's widespread use and application, it likely will prove necessary to regulate HexChrom under a separate standard as defined under the "the Act."

Interim Actions Urged

ASSE also urges OSHA to take appropriate interim actions to provide worker protections until the agency determines whether and how to revise the PELs and until any new standards can take effect. Until revised exposure limits for HexChrom are enforced under a final rule, a number of OSHA standards currently in effect afford reasonable protection to workers from exposure to HexChrom.

These occupational health and safety standards include those covered under 29 C.F.R. Part 1910, Sub-parts I (Personal Protective Equipment), J (General Environmental Controls - sanitation), Q (Welding, Cutting and Brazing) and Z (Toxic and Hazardous Substances-hazard communication) and Part 1926, Sub-parts C (General Safety and Health Provisions - safety training and education, sanitation and personal protective equipment), D (Occupational Health and Environmental Controls - ventilation), E (Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment - eye, face and respiratory protection) and J (Welding and Cutting - ventilation). Finally, OSHA may protect workers with significant exposure to HexChrom by invoking the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of "the Act."

OSHA historically has applied such standards and the General Duty Clause in a systematic manner to other chemical and biological agents that do not have an independent, expanded health standard. These include crystalline silica and, more recently, mycobacterium tuberculosis and bloodborne pathogens (prior to enactment of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, 29 C.F.R. §1910.1030).

Partnership Opportunity

In addition, OSHA may effectively focus its limited resources on occupational exposure to HexChrom through implementation of development of "best practices" guidelines, Special Emphasis Program and/or partnership initiatives with professional safety and health organizations and others in affected industry sectors. Given ASSE's national professional membership and its Industrial Hygiene practice specialty section, the Society is uniquely capable to pledge cooperation in disseminating information about the hazards associated with HexChrom throughout industry, labor and the SH&E profession.


Thank you for your consideration of these comments. ASSE looks forward to participating actively in any future rulemaking actions, public hearings, or stakeholder meetings on this critical occupational health issue.


Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP

Click here to go back to the ASSE Federal Statements and Testimony page.