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OSHA sets new standards for beryllium exposure

Colorado workers that are exposed to beryllium on the job are at risk for developing a condition known as chronic beryllium disease. This debilitating illness develops in workers that inhale beryllium dust or fumes. On Aug. 6, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced new safety standards aimed at protecting the estimated 35,000 workers who are exposed to beryllium in the United States.

The OSHA plan will limit permissible exposure to beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air, compared to the 2.0 micrograms per cubic foot that have been allowed since 1971. By limiting exposure to beryllium, OSHA estimates that 50 serious illnesses and 100 deaths will be prevented each year. The new safety standards will also require workers to undergo a medical exam after being exposed to large amounts of beryllium dust.

Beryllium is a kind of metal that is used to manufacture electronic and aerospace products as well as nuclear weapons. The tougher standards for beryllium exposure were created after the United Steelworkers partnered with Materion Corporation and explained the need for new regulations to OSHA. The president of United Steelworkers said that the union wanted even more regulations on beryllium, but he said the new rule is much better than the old standard.

Since 2000, the Labor Department has paid out more than $500 million to nuclear workers who developed chronic beryllium disease. Workers may claim compensation for their injuries whether they currently work with beryllium or suffer from an illness caused by prior exposure to beryllium dust. An individual who has been exposed to beryllium dust in the workplace may want to seek an attorney's help to file a workers' compensation claim.

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