If you know me, I’ve warned that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is going to change the official Lead Standards for General Industry and Construction. Finally, they are doing it.
To that end, OSHA issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) on July 2, 2022, signaling intent for major changes and seeking comments from stakeholders. Some information in the ANPRM, provides new information on routes of entry, health effects, and beyond. It also includes a glimpse at what the expected changes may look like.
Routes of Entry
The ANPRM summarizes data from a 2020 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) report. That report indicates that occupational exposure to lead can occur through inhalation, oral, and/or dermal routes. OSHA has not previously stated that lead can enter the body through the skin.
The ANPRM also states all of the health effects discussed in Table 1 and Table 2 (linked below) can result from all of these exposure routes.
There are several new and expanded health effects highlighted in Table 1 (page 4, ANPRM). They include:
- Cancer of the lung, stomach, kidney and brain
- Respiratory — Decreased lung function, increased asthma, or obstructive lung disease
— bone loss, periodontal and dental effects
- Body weight decreased
Table 2 (page 5, ANPRM) identifies new symptoms of potential lead health effects and the thresholds at which they may appear.
Current data also appears to suggest that zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP) testing is not meaningful in managing elevated lead.
In addition to health effects, Table 2 provides some new information on the blood lead levels at which health effects may begin to occur especially at exposures from 5 to 20 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL).
Expected Proposed, Final Rule
We can only guess at what the final rule changes will look like. OSHA discusses an existing Michigan regulation and proposed California and Washington regulations extensively in its ANPRM as the basis for some of the expected revisions.
Furthermore, the agency introduces new data provided in the previously mentioned ATSR (2020), as well as medical guidelines from the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics and Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance (2016); the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Understanding Blood Lead Levels (2021); and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report on human exposure to environmental chemicals (2022), among others.
Based upon the information discussed in the ANPRM, the questions asked, and increasing health effects related to low-level chronic exposures, I expect the following changes or similar:
- Medical Surveillance
- Blood lead level (BLL) limits of 10–20 µg/dL.
- New triggers for initial BLL testing
- Increased frequency of testing (monthly or bi-monthly) and if certain levels are exceeded
- Removal of ZPP testing
- Medical Removal — At 20–30 µg/dL, one high BLL above the threshold and/or repeated elevated values.
- Return to Work — 2 BLLs, taken two weeks apart, below 15 µg/dL
- Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) — 10–20 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as eight-hour time weighted average (TWA)
- Action Level at half the PEL, 5–10 µg/m3 as eight-hour TWA
- If the PEL is lowered, it will revise triggers for engineering controls, showers, compliance plans, etc.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Hygiene
- Impermeable PPE
- Changes regarding personal clothing worn under PPE
- Triggers for providing PPE
- Training — Updated to address new health effects and routes of entry
Questions for Employers, Opportunities for Comment
Comments are now being accepted through Oct. 28, 2022, and OSHA has put together a list of more than 60 specific questions on which the agency is seeking input. Any individual, company, or organization can provide comments online at www.regulations.gov (refer to Docket No. OSHA-2018-0004).
The brief comment period appears to signify rapid movement from ANPRM for a final rule.
These changes, or something similar to them, are coming before 2024.
I urge you to submit comments directly to OSHA and/or to engage in organizational responses by the Association for Materials Performance and Protection (AMPP), the National Steel Painting Contractors Association (NSPCA), the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), and others to provide information to OSHA regarding abrasive blast cleaning and other surface preparation methods; containment; ventilation; and work practices that we use, as well as the types of exposures we experience and the costs incurred to meet the current OSHA standard.
Work with your employees now to reduce BLLs to as low as feasible and consider how you will manage them once these changes take effect.
Readers can obtain a copy of the ANPRM and more at www.osha.gov/lead. More information about the process is available by listening to our CoatingsPro podcast below.