Exposure Limits In Peril

Where would we be without industrial hygiene? IH is the foundation of workplace safety and health, but without trustworthy, valid exposure limits that match the latest science about health effects, IH would be guesswork. That is a dangerous scenario in our time of swift global movement of new and recycled products, nanotechnologies, and new regulations meant to limit exposures of workers and the public to chemicals that can harm them.

What if the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®) stopped maintaining and issuing Threshold Limit Values (TLVs®)? Our community relies heavily on ACGIH’s TLVs and Biological Exposure Indices (BEIs®). TLVs are non-mandatory recommendations, but they are considered scientifically valid and current by OSHA and many employers. Their credibility surely was why lawsuits were filed to stop ACGIH from publishing them.

What if the TLVs and BEIs went away? I can’t estimate the damage, but I believe workers, employers, and OSH professionals would be harmed. Now, the question is whether those constituencies will give money to save them.

The Foundation for Occupational Health & Safety recently created the Sustainable TLV®/BEI® Fund to ensure the continued development of the TLVs and BEIs. FOHS President Dean Lillquist said the goal is to raise $5 million to $10 million in the next decade, a sum that would sustain the development program. ACGIH’s board chair, Larry Gibbs, said expenses from defending and winning the litigation combined with declining publication revenues in the weak economy caused them to explore alternatives.

“There’s also an evident need to increase the rate at which occupational exposure values are being produced,” he said. “In the U.S. and also worldwide, the number of chemicals in commerce, especially high-production-volume chemicals, is in the thousands. And yet, if you look at the available occupational exposure values from all sources, there are less than a thousand total. So there remains a huge gap between available occupational exposure values and what is needed.”

“We hope to be able to call upon everyone involved in worker protection to participate: trade organizations, industry employers, societies–everyone who will benefit from the continued production of occupational exposure values,” Gibbs added. “I believe the future of our profession is dependent upon working together to support continued development of occupational exposure values.”

We’ll be in trouble if that ability is lost. To contribute or learn more about the fund, visit www.fohs.org/SusTLV-BEIPrgm.htm.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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