WASHINGTON - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Feb. 27,2006, lowered the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for hexavalent chromium (CrVI) to 5.0 micrograms/cubic meter as an 8-hour time-weighted-average (TWA) exposure. The agency had originally proposed a 1.0 microgram PEL, but OSHA concluded that level was neither technologically nor economically feasible.

The new limit constitutes a substantial reduction from the current limit of 52.0 micrograms/cubic meter. Employers must meet the PEL through use of engineering controls to the maximum extent feasible. Even if the employer can demonstrate that available engineering controls are unable to achieve control of chromium exposure to the PEL, it must still install and use such controls to control exposures to the lowest achievable level. There are also provisions for medical monitoring, hygiene facilities, protective clothing and equipment, and regulated areas where hexavalent chromium is present in the workplace.

The standard goes into effect on May 30, 2006. Employers with 20 or more employees must comply with the new PEL and meet all of the rule's requirements by Nov.27, 2006. However, the date that required engineering controls must be in place is May 31, 2010.

NPCA, as well as a number of groups representing allied industries, such as the Color Pigments Manufacturers Association and the Aerospace Industries Association, filed detailed comments with OSHA and subsequently testified at public hearings. NPCA and other industry comments argued that the dramatic reduction in the PEL, along with the high cost of engineering controls, will be so costly as to cause chromium suppliers, product formulators and end-users to curtail or even eliminate use of CrVI, even where quite beneficial and well-controlled.