Policy on Recommended Exposure Limits, Carcinogens Is Focus of NIOSH Review

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The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health requested information Aug. 23 on key issues related to its carcinogen and recommended exposure limit policy review, including whether there should be an explicit carcinogen policy rather than a broader policy on toxicant classification.

The request, in the Aug. 23 Federal Register (76 Fed. Reg. 52,664), also sought comment on what evidence should form the basis for determining substances are carcinogens and how NIOSH should categorize them; and how the phrase “to the extent feasible” should be interpreted and applied with respect to the REL policy.

NIOSH began reviewing its policy in December 2010 following public criticisms of its asbestos research road map, which described asbestos as a “potential occupational carcinogen,” before revising it to state the fiber can cause cancer and asbestosis. The institute has no graver classification to describe the health effects of asbestos, however, and has thus formed an internal work group to examine revisions to its cancer and recommended exposure limit policies (41 OSHR 649, 7/28/11).

In Aug. 23 notice, NIOSH also asked for comment on whether 1 in 1,000 working lifetime risk for workers exposed to carcinogens is appropriate or if it should be made more protective and what assumptions, in the absence of data, are appropriate in the development of limits.

One policy observer told BNA Aug. 23 she supports the NIOSH review and hopes it will assist the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in revising its own permissible exposure limits. OSHA set out to explore strategies for revising its exposure limits in coordination with NIOSH in 2010, but to date it has proposed no revisions.

“I think it's great NIOSH is doing this and I think they're asking the right questions,” Celeste Monforton, an adjunct professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health, said. “I would hope OSHA would benefit and use the investment in resources that NIOSH puts into its REL program.”

Finally, the institute asked for comment on what the utility of an action level is and how it should address worker exposure to complex mixtures.

Responses to the request for information are due Sept. 22. NIOSH also announced it will hold a public meeting on the review, although it has not yet been scheduled.

By Greg Hellman

Information on NIOSH's review of its carcinogen and REL policy is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/cancer/policy.html .

The Federal Register notice is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-23/html/2011-21405.htm .