DEBATE ON SCOTT AMENDMENT NO. 12 TO DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2020
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chair, I rise in support of this amendment to protect construction and shipyard workers from exposure to beryllium, an ultra-toxic metal. When beryllium dust is inhaled, it can trigger chronic beryllium disease, an irreversible lung disease that suffocates victims and often leads to a painful death. Beryllium is also a known human carcinogen.
For decades the Federal Government has relied on an arbitrary standard created in 1948 to limit workers' exposure to beryllium.
In January 2017, after almost 20 years of consideration, OSHA issued a standard that cut permissible worker exposure levels by 90 percent for general industry, construction, and maritime workers, and improved early detection of beryllium-related health effects through medical monitoring. But this victory was short-lived. Less than a year later OSHA moved to weaken protections against exposure to beryllium for 11,500 maritime and construction workers.
This is the first time in its nearly 50-year history that OSHA has proposed to roll back an existing worker health protection for a substance known to cause cancer. While keeping lower exposure limits, the new OSHA proposal would eliminate vital ancillary provisions that protect workers from beryllium.
If this proposal is finalized, workers would have no way of knowing if they are being exposed to harmful levels of airborne beryllium. Worse still, workers would have no way of knowing if they or their employers need to take measures to address a beryllium-related disease or adverse health effect.
OSHA's unprecedented move ignores scientific evidence showing that, even with the 90 percent reduction in the exposure limits, there remains a significant risk to worker health from beryllium, and when a significant health risk remains, the courts have affirmed that OSHA should maintain ancillary requirements.
Furthermore, OSHA has presented no evidence that construction and maritime workers are at any less risk of beryllium-related diseases than general industry workers. Nonetheless, the agency's proposal would discriminate against construction and maritime workers by leaving them with inferior protections compared to general industry workers.
Finally, OSHA's unprecedented action was not based on science or evidence that the ancillary requirements were not feasible. Construction companies and shipyards across the country already implement other OSHA standards with ancillary provisions for toxic metals such as chromium, cadmium, and arsenic.
Mr. Chair, I urge a ``yes'' vote on this amendment to protect construction and maritime workers, and I reserve the balance of my time.