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Regulating Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

By Everett & Associates on Apr 06, 2013 at 09:06 AM in Environmental Issues

One of the dilemmas of environmental regulation is that EPA stipulates permissible levels for inadvertent exposure to certain toxic chemicals (such as from vapor intrusion from subsurface contamination) but OSHA allows much higher levels of exposure of the same chemicals for purposeful exposure in an occupational setting. This interesting article  from the New York Times explains that part of the reason for this discrepency is that it's easier for OSHA to focus on dangers with immediate conseqences, like a worker falling off a ladder and harder to address chronic exposure that may take decades to manifest as disease.

According to the article, "OSHA, ... has largely ignored long-term threats. Partly out of pragmatism, the agency created by President Richard M. Nixon to give greater attention to health issues has largely done the opposite.       

OSHA devotes most of its budget and attention to responding to here-and-now dangers rather than preventing the silent, slow killers that, in the end, take far more lives. Over the past four decades, the agency has written new standards with exposure limits for 16 of the most deadly workplace hazards, including lead, asbestos and arsenic. But for the tens of thousands of other dangerous substances American workers handle each day, employers are largely left to decide what exposure level is safe. By contrast, OSHA has two dozen pages of regulations just on ladders and stairs."