Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Attack on the TLVs

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Attack on the TLVs

Article excerpt

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists enters a high-stakes legal battle over its most famous product -- TLVs.

In 1989, OSHA tried to update hundreds of its permissible exposure limits (PELs) for hazardous air contaminants, but was thwarted when a federal court said the agency had to prove the need for the stricter rules on a substance-by-substance basis. As a result, OSHA's permissible exposure limits continue to represent the science of 30 to 40 years ago. The agency's prospects for updating its rules anytime soon are virtually zero.

Not to worry, some safety experts might argue, because there is plenty of good guidance on chemical exposure levels available from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). This Cincinnati-based organization has been recommending exposure levels for substances since 1946. Its annual publication, Threshold Limit Values and Biological Exposure Indices, covers more than 700 chemical substances, physical agents and biological exposure indices. While not carrying the force of law, the threshold limit values (TLVs) are generally respected and referenced as a source of quality scientific advice.

Will ACGIH continue its role of issuing these recommendations? For the first time, that question is being asked because of litigation pending against the association and what it could mean for the future of the TLV process.

In December, ACGIH was hit in short order by three lawsuits. Two of the cases strike at the heart of the TLV process.

The first lawsuit involves Anchor Glass Container Corp. and other manufacturers and users of the mineral sodium sesquicarbonate, or trona. These manufacturers claim that ACGIH is a federal advisory committee to the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and, as such, should be bound by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. In essence, these companies argue that ACGIH is in the standards-setting business because OSHA and NIOSH have used TLVs to set federal standards in the past. The manufacturers argue that ACGIH cannot be allowed to publish a TLV for trona and that DOL and HHS cannot rely upon or use a trona TLV. Trona is on the list of Notices of Intended Changes.

ACGIH denies that it is a federal advisory committee or that it is bound by the federal law's rules. ACGIH Executive Director Richard Strano emphasized to OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS that the TLVs are not standards and noted that the inside cover of the TLV booklet states: "They are not developed for use as legal standards, and ACGIH does not advocate their use as such. …

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