Legislation to Reduce Permissible Exposure Limit on Lead

On February 11, 2019 California Assembly Members Quirk and Smith introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 457 which would require Cal/OSHA to revise the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for lead in the general industry safety orders (Section 5198) and the construction safety orders (Section 1532.1) of Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations. The bill would require a revised PEL by February 1, 2020.  I don’t believe the bill has been heard in committee yet. The bill does not specify what the PEL should be set at.

On September 30, 2013, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) sent a letter to Cal/OSHA recommending a decrease in the Cal/OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for lead.  The current Cal/OSHA PEL for lead is based on toxicity information that is over 30 years old.  CDPH concluded that harmful effects of chronic, low-level exposures to lead occur when blood lead levels are well below those currently allowed by the standard.  Based on current medical/toxicological knowledge CDPH recommended revisions to the medical surveillance, medical removal protection, protective clothing, hygiene, training and warning sign requirements of the general industry and construction standards.  CDPH concluded through mathematical modeling that a reduction in the PEL is necessary to reduce blood lead levels for workers. CDPH recommended a reduction in acceptable worker blood lead levels (BLLs) as well as a decrease in the permissible airborne exposure level for workers.

Cal/OSHA has been working on revisions to Section 5198 and for the past couple of years.  The last draft was in November, 2016. Cal/OSHA submitted a Standardized Regulatory Impact Analysis (SRIA) to the California Department of Finance and is awaiting their comments.  The draft changes are available through Cal/OSHA Advisory Committee. Discussion drafts, supporting documentation and meeting minutes are available at https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/doshreg/5198Meetings.htm.  According to a Cal/OSHA representative I spoke with, Cal/OSHA hopes to submit the revised standards package to the Cal/OSH Standards Board in the latter part of 2019.  Cal/OSHA supports the bill as it would expedite the adoption of the revised PEL.

Cal/OSHA is proposing to reduce the Action Level (AL) for lead from 30 ug/m3 (current level) to 2 ug/m3 and reducing the PEL from 50 ug/m3 (current level) to 10 ug/m3 based on an 8-hour time weighted average.  Though a significant change, CDPH has provided research to suggest the lowering the AL/PEL is indeed needed. In addition to the AL/PEL Cal/OSHA will be recommending many other changes to the general industry and construction standards including medical surveillance (reducing acceptable BLL levels); changes to work procedures, hygiene requirements, worker training and posting of warning signs.

The Cohen Group is monitoring the proposed revisions closely and we remain actively involved in providing comments and recommendations to Cal/OSHA.  Please let us know your thoughts and comments so that you too can have a voice in this significant rulemaking process.