Key findings from the Center's workplace toxics investigation

Key findings:

  • America’s system for preventing worker illnesses and deaths from chemicals, fumes and dust is so broken that OSHA warns companies not to rely on its legal exposure limits to protect employees.
  • One example of the U.S. government’s failure to properly regulate toxic substances in American workplaces: The effort to tighten rules for lung-damaging silica is 40 years old and still hasn’t crossed the finish line.
  • U.S. workers face high cancer risks if exposed over their careers to certain chemicals at the legal limit, according to analyses by OSHA and a separate analysis by the Center for Public Integrity and a former OSHA official.
  • The vast majority of the tens of thousands of chemicals made or used in the U.S., including some very common and toxic substances, have no workplace exposure limits.
  • Even though OSHA’s workforce exposure limits are too loose, companies don’t always comply with them. OSHA samples testing positive for lead, for instance, frequently topped legal levels.

Editor’s note, June 29, 2015: Workers in America face risks from toxic exposures that would be considered unacceptable outside the job — and in many cases are perfectly legal. Today, in the first installment of a series, we reveal how regulators are still struggling to protect workers from lung-damaging silica 40 years after being warned about it, and show, in a new analysis, the high cancer risks posed by a variety of chemicals. The second part of the series focuses on the potential harm unborn children face from their parents’ exposures. Next week, we examine the struggles that have plagued the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since it opened its doors 44 years ago. Additional stories will appear later this year. Join the conversation on our Worker Safety Facebook group.