Flint, Michigan, was thrust into the national spotlight in 2014, after a decision to cut costs by switching the city's drinking water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River led to over 100,000 residents being exposed to dangerous amounts of lead.
Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder called the U.S. EPA's Lead and Copper Rule "dumb and dangerous" and urged a change to the federal agency's standard. Two years later, the Great Lakes State adopted the nation's strictest regulations on lead in drinking water, requiring that by 2025 the "action level" for lead lower from the federal limit of 15 parts per billion to 12, according to the Detroit Free Press.
And now, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration is continuing that trend by making the state the first in the nation to lower permissible blood lead levels for workers.
Last month, MIOSHA implemented new rules which require that employees be removed from lead exposure when their blood lead level reaches 30 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL), and not be allowed to return to work involving lead exposure until their BLL is below 15 µg/dL. This new standard basically halves the limits established under Michigan's previous rules, which permitted workers to have BLLs of 50 to 60 µg/dL before being removed from lead exposure, and allowed them to return to work when their BLL was below 40 µg/dL.
The average BLL in the general population is 1.12 µg/dL, according to a press release from the agency.
Demolition is one of the industries in which workers are exposed to high levels of lead.
The work environments carrying the greatest source of lead exposure for adults include manufacturing or refurbishing batteries, demolition or remodeling activities, working in gun ranges and abrasive blasting of bridges, overpasses or water towers.
"Fact-based rule promulgation is an essential element of MIOSHA's mission to protect the safety and health of Michigan workers," said MIOSHA Director Bart Pickelman. "These updated worker blood lead levels reflect today's knowledge and are considered necessary to safeguard employees in this great state from the hazards of lead."
According to MIOSHA, the current federal OSHA standards for lead are based on outdated scientific information that is now more than three decades old. At the national level, OSHA plans to issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on BLLs for Medical Removal in 2019, and at the state level, other state OSHA agencies are currently in the process of updating their rules.
Michigan's new worker protections came about after MIOSHA was approached by Michigan Occupational and Environmental Medical Association representatives who proposed lowering existing limits for worker lead exposure, which led to the formation of an advisory committee composed of figures from industry, labor, management, construction, and health. The committee drafted rule revisions for consideration by the department, and following a public hearing in August, the revised rules were filed with Michigan's Office of the Great Seal on Dec. 11, 2018, with an immediate effective date. A 60-day temporary stay was implemented by MIOSHA's enforcement divisions, allowing employers time to comply with the new requirements.
"We can say with pride that Michigan now leads the nation in protecting workers from harmful lead exposure on the job by being the first state in the nation to update its standards to dramatically reduce allowable blood lead levels," said MOEMA President Dr. Michael Berneking. "We hope that other states and the federal government will look to Michigan as an example and work toward making changes in the lead standard in their jurisdictions to safeguard the working populations."
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