thesynergist | NEWSWATCH
EPA Proposal Would Require Replacement of All Lead Pipes by 2034
A proposed rule published on Dec. 6, 2023, in the Federal Register would require nearly all water systems in the United States to replace lead service lines within 10 years. EPA, which proposed the rule, estimates there are approximately 9.2 million lead service lines in use across the nation. The rule would also lower the action level for lead in water from 15 µg/L to 10 µg/L.
The American Water Works Association issued a statement strongly supporting the EPA rule, although AWWA noted the cost of replacing a single lead service line is more than $10,000 and that the total cost of the rule could exceed $90 billion. To support the rule, $15 billion is appropriated for lead service line replacement by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and an additional $11.7 billion is available through the Safe Drinking Water Act.
If finalized, the rule would put into motion on a grand scale the kind of work activities that cities like Newark, New Jersey, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, have experienced from local programs targeting the removal of lead service lines. Newark launched its effort in 2019, three years after elevated levels of lead were found in the water at 30 city schools. According to CDM Smith, the firm that managed Newark’s replacement program, at one point work crews in the city were replacing as many as 100 lines per day. Even with progress slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, all 23,000 of Newark’s lead service lines were replaced within three years.
In Green Bay, testing in 2012 identified elevated levels of lead around the same time that Flint, Michigan, was experiencing a crisis from lead in water. According to an article on the AWWA website, Green Bay’s utility initiated an arduous process to identify which of the city’s 36,000 service lines contained lead and identify affected property owners. Over five years, work crews replaced nearly 1,800 lead service lines, or approximately five percent of the city’s total.
A NIOSH health hazard evaluation published in 2021 (PDF) discusses lead exposures to workers charged with replacing lead service lines. NIOSH personnel observed two crews of four workers employed by a municipal water department. Workers typically attached a new copper line to the existing lead line and extracted it, pulling the new one into place. In some cases, removal required workers to blow a steel cable through the existing line with compressed air, resulting in discharges of large amounts of aerosolized lead. NIOSH found lead on employees’ hands, inside work gloves, in work trucks, and in workers’ locker rooms. Some workers wore their respirators incorrectly.
A separate NIOSH “workplace solutions” document published in October 2023 highlights ways to reduce workers’ lead exposure during water service line removal and replacement. A few tasks that can result in lead exposures to workers include cutting or handling lead pipes, excavating lead-contaminated soil, and changing filters on vacuums used to collect lead dust.
Comments on the proposed rule were due Feb. 5, 2024.
For more information, read the proposed rule in the Federal Register and the EPA press release. Additional information is available from the EPA website.
OSHA Employees Will Swap Hard Hats for Safety Helmets
In December, OSHA announced it will replace the traditional hard hats used by its employees with more modern safety helmets. Hard hats lack features like chin straps and vents and have minimal side impact protection, whereas safety helmets incorporate features that help protect the worker’s entire head, OSHA explained. Certain safety helmet models offer additional features, such as face shields, goggles, and built-in hearing protection or communication systems. OSHA recommends that workers in the construction and oil and gas industries, as well as those performing tasks involving electrical work or working from heights, wear safety helmets. Some regulations and industry standards mandate the use of safety helmets. A safety and health bulletin (PDF) published in November by OSHA further explains the differences between hard hats and safety helmets. To learn more about OSHA’s shift to safety helmets, see the agency’s press release.
NIOSH: IEQ, Noise Among Concerns in Underground Warehouse Facility
NIOSH performed a health hazard evaluation (HHE) for a woodshop and warehouse facility located in a former underground limestone quarry. At the request of an employer representative, the agency assessed potential exposures to hazards such as wood dust, noise, carbon monoxide, and radon and analyzed the mineral fibers and oil-like residue found on some of the cavern’s rock walls.
Levels of carbon monoxide and radon were below occupational exposure limits, but the agency report raises concerns about employees’ wood dust and noise exposures in the woodshop and about low air exchange rates in the warehouse. Analysis suggested that the mineral fibers from the cavern walls contained a magnesium sulfate compound called epsomite. NIOSH stated that, under typical workplace conditions, these fibers would not become airborne and therefore would not present a risk to employees, but a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered vacuum would be required if fibers needed to be removed. Analysis of the residue from the cavern walls was inconclusive.
Recommendations for improving workplace health and safety at the facility include improving dust capture at the saws in the woodshop and introducing a hearing loss prevention program for woodshop employees. NIOSH urged the employer to supply outdoor air to the cavern warehouse following specifications for ventilation rates outlined in the standard ANSI/ASHRAE 62.1-2022, Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.
For more information, read the HHE report (PDF). Other HHE reports are available from the NIOSH website.
CSB Report on Explosions, Fire Highlights Combustible Dust Concerns
Lack of recognition of combustible dust hazards contributed to a deadly fire and series of explosions in May 2017 at the Didion Milling Inc. facility in Cambria, Wisconsin, according to a report (PDF) by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). On May 31, corn dust ignited inside the milling facility’s processing equipment. The fire spread rapidly through interconnected dust collection systems, leading to multiple explosions. The incident fatally injured five employees, seriously injured 14 others, and destroyed the facility. Didion’s design processes lacked safeguards and did not follow design practices that could have prevented the incident or reduced its severity, CSB found. The company had not installed engineering controls to prevent or mitigate combustible dust hazards. CSB also cited Didion’s neglect to provide personal protective equipment to employees, poor safety culture and leadership, and failure to act on the findings of previous investigations, inspections, and audits, despite several previous fires. Although OSHA regulates some aspects of combustible dust hazards, the agency lacks an overarching standard for managing them. “As a result, Didion was not required to implement safety management systems, such as those required for other highly hazardous materials,” CSB stated. CSB recommends that OSHA develop a national standard for industries that handle combustible dust and increase follow-up inspections at facilities where combustible dust standards have been identified. More information may be found in CSB’s press release.
Regional Emphasis Program Targets Hazards in Landscaping, Horticulture
A new Regional Emphasis Program (REP) developed by OSHA is intended to reduce fatalities, injuries, and safety and health hazards in the landscaping and horticultural industries in OSHA Region 9, which comprises the states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada, and the Pacific territories American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. According to the agency, 1,072 work-related fatalities occurred in the landscaping and groundskeeping industry during 2011–2021. Worker deaths in the industry exceeded the national average of other industries in 2021. Workers in landscaping and horticulture are at risk of amputations, falls, electrocution, exposure to excessive noise, heat illness, ergonomic injuries, motor vehicle and machinery operation hazards, animal or insect encounters, and exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.
The REP became effective on Nov. 8, 2023. More information about the REP can be found in OSHA’s press release and in the regional instruction (PDF) that established it.
Australia's New Engineered Stone Ban to Begin in July
Australia will become the first country to prohibit the use, supply, and manufacture of all engineered stone starting July 1, 2024. The decision, made on Dec. 13 during a meeting of workplace relations and work health and safety ministers, is based on the recommendation of Safe Work Australia, the agency that develops national policies to improve occupational health and safety in the country. Australia’s engineered stone ban is intended to address rising rates of silicosis and silica-related diseases. Workers in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries are disproportionately diagnosed with such diseases.
“When engineered stone is processed, the dust generated has different physical and chemical properties that likely contribute to more rapid and severe disease,” the Australian government’s decision states. “There is no scientific evidence for a safe threshold of crystalline silica content in engineered stone, or that lower silica content engineered stone is safer to work with.”
Engineered stone can contain more than 90 percent crystalline silica content, far higher than the 10 to 45 percent typical with granite, according to a hazard alert (PDF) published by NIOSH.
Exceptions to Australia’s ban are set to include the removal, repair, minor modification, and disposal of engineered stone products installed prior to the prohibition. Regulators and Safe Work Australia will develop a process for exempting additional products. According to the decision, future engineered stone products may be exempted from the ban if there is “compelling evidence demonstrating these products can be used safely.”
CSB Determines Cause of Fatal Explosion and Fire at a Resin Plant
In late November, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued its final report (PDF) on an explosion and fire that occurred at the Yenkin-Majestic resin plant in Columbus, Ohio, on April 8, 2021. According to CSB, naphtha solvent vapors leaked through the seal of a closed manway of an operating kettle, forming a flammable cloud that spread through the facility. When the cloud ignited, the explosion was heard and felt throughout Columbus. The resulting fire burned for about 11 hours. One employee was fatally injured, and eight others received serious injuries, with one requiring a leg amputation.
Pressure built up in the kettle after an operator added liquid solvent to the resin while the kettle agitator was turned off, contrary to established procedures. The activation of the agitator caused the solvent to vaporize. CSB found that the manway through which the flammable vapor escaped was not appropriately designed, constructed, or pressure tested for the process. Yenkin-Majestic had not installed engineering controls to prevent operators from adding solvent while the agitator was inactive or audible alarms to notify workers of a hazardous gas release and the need to evacuate. Workers were also not trained to identify flammable gas hazards or required to wear flame-resistant personal protective equipment.
CSB’s report includes recommendations made to Yenkin-Majestic to address the identified safety issues. More information can be found in CSB’s press release.
OSHA Proposes Rule Protecting Emergency Responders
OSHA announced in December its proposal of a standard expanding health and safety protections for emergency response workers. According to a Department of Labor press release, the standard will, if implemented, cover firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and technical search and rescue workers. It will update current OSHA regulations that were not designed as comprehensive emergency response standards and do not cover the full range of job hazards that today’s emergency response workers may encounter. The proposed rulemaking is intended to bring federal safety and health protections “in line with national consensus standards for a broad range of workers exposed to hazards that arise during and after fires and other emergencies,” the press release states.
OSHA invited the public to submit comments on the rulemaking after its publication in the Federal Register in January 2024.
More information may be found in the DOL press release.
IH Monitoring of PFAS Available for Companies as Part of NIOSH Research Study
Researchers at NIOSH are recruiting companies for “Occupational Exposure and Health Indicator Assessment of PFAS: A Feasibility Study,” a new research study that seeks to measure exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in settings like manufacturing facilities and the service sector. According to NIOSH, companies participating in the PFAS study will better understand exposure at their facilities, be able to access other exposure assessment services or expertise from NIOSH, and engage in conversation with employees around health and safety topics.
Companies that manufacture or use PFAS-containing products are eligible to participate in the study. NIOSH researchers will visit each company for three to five days to enroll workers who volunteer. The agency will collect personal and area workplace air samples as well as biological samples from workers and analyze them for a range of PFAS and health indicators. Participating workers will also be asked to complete a short survey. Individual participants will receive their personal results for all analyses, while companies will receive summary results.
Interested companies are encouraged to email the primary investigator, Miriam Calkins, PhD, and the study team or call (513) 841-4216.
Cal/OSHA Issues Emergency Temporary Standard on Respirable Crystalline Silica
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has approved an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from silicosis, an incurable, potentially fatal lung disease. All California workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica other than those employed in construction or agricultural operations are covered by the emergency temporary standard, which went into effect Dec. 29, 2023. The emergency temporary standard requires employers to protect workers engaged in tasks such as cutting, grinding, polishing, and cleanup of artificial and natural stone by implementing controls such as wetting stone to suppress dust and requiring the use of powered air-purifying respirators.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has identified 95 cases of workers who developed silicosis since 2019, including 10 workers who died of the disease, according to a press release issued by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Those who cut artificial stone, which can contain 93 percent or greater crystalline silica, are at most risk for developing silicosis.
Further information about the emergency temporary standard may be found in DIR’s press release and an executive summary by Cal/OSHA (PDF).