New Federal Silica Exposure Rule Could Cost Billions

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27 April 2016

Plastics News, 15 April 2016

“Under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, permitted exposures to silica in the construction industry would be cut to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period from 250 micrograms.

In other industries, which have a 100 microgram standard, it will also be reduced to 50 micrograms.

The rules are set to take effect June 23 though the first compliance dates are at least another year away: June 23, 2017, for construction; June 23, 2018 for general industry — which would include plastics manufacturing; and June 23, 2021, for oil and gas fracking operations.

While silica exposure gets the most attention in mining and construction, precipitated and fumed silica are used in plastics as fillers, thickeners or softeners and in aiding flow for processing thermoplastics, compounds, composites and thermoplastic elastomers.

Silica also is used as fillers in popular composite countertop materials, such as DuPont’s Zodiaq.  And it has been suggested as a replacement for plastic microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products, which have fallen out of favor or been legislated off the market.

The new rules impact ‘anybody that kicks up respirable silica,’ as one expert put it, which could include compounders and resin producers that add silica to plastics.  The 600-page rules are much stricter than current 1970s-era rules for personal protective equipment and housekeeping, written exposure control planning and engineering controls such as pricey ventilation systems.

Officials estimate that the new silica standard, when fully in effect, will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis, a dangerous and often fatal lung disease, every year.  Though OSHA estimates the cost of the rule at about $1 billion annually, the agency expects net benefits of $7.7 billion a year once it is in effect.  Trade groups whose industries will be impacted disagree with OSHA’s estimates.”

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