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Chemical Exposure Limits That BP Cites Are ‘Not Safe,’ Gov’t Official Says

As one of my colleagues just noted, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration acknowledged today that more training is needed to protect some Gulf cleanup workers. It turns out that's not the only critique that the agency's chief had regarding the safety in the Gulf.

OSHA's David Michaels said that his own agency's chemical exposure limits, which BP has continually cited in its assurances about worker safety, are so "outrageously out of date" that no one should be citing them as evidence of safety. (You can listen to his full answer.)

"Let me be very clear. In the Gulf, we're not saying BP has to protect people to those limits, because they're not safe," OSHA chief David Michaels said in an interview on C-SPAN's Washington Journal earlier today."What we're telling people is don't refer to our legal limits. What we're trying to do here is make sure workers are safe."

Someone might want to tell BP, and other federal agencies. As we've reported, they've continually responded to our inquiries about worker illness and chemical exposure by pointing out that air sampling results have been within permissible exposure limits set by OSHA.

But as experts interviewed by ProPublica have also pointed out, most of OSHA's standards haven't been updated for decades. As one expert put it, workers in the Gulf are being exposed "to levels that are perhaps perfectly legal, but not safe." Now add OSHA's chief to the list of experts who question the exposure limits.

When I asked BP spokesman John Curry about this, he told me, "We can only go by what the standard is," and said that the company has been providing respirators to workers near the spill's source even when chemical exposures have been detected at levels below OSHA's permissible exposure limits.

"We want to do all we can to protect workers. We have no reason to want people to get ill or sick or injured," Curry said. "We continue to take data and the data continues to show that it's below the OSHA action level."