Some Utah businesses are facing the expenditure of thousands of dollars for new equipment because of a U.S. Labor Department strategy for protecting workers from toxic substances.

In some instances, businesses would be forced to purchase new equipment because the exposure limits proposed are lower than the ones currently being enforced by occupational safety and health investigators.Although the proposed rule would cost an estimated $900 million annually, John A. Pendergrass, assistant secretary of labor in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the limits would reduce work-related illnesses such as cancer, liver and kidney impairments and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases by 50,000 cases annually.

He said the new limits also could reduce the number of lost work days by 500,000 annually and save up to 500 lives.

Bob Dreman, safety and health manager for the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division, said hearings on the proposed new limits will be held July 20 in Washington, D.C. Written comments will be accepted until July 8 and those wanting to testify have until July 1 to request time.

Once the standards are adopted by OSHA, the state office must go through the regular rule-making process that requires it to publish the proposal and hold a public hearing. Dreman said the rules adopted for Utah must be equal to or exceed the standards adopted by the federal government.

Donald Anderson, compliance supervisor, said the toxic substances used in Utah most affected by the new rules would be ammonia (used as a refrigerant), styrene (sed in construction of boats and in plastics) and methylene chloride (used as a cleaning solvent).

Pendergrass said when followed by employers, the proposed limits would significantly reduce the risk of illness from on-the-job exposure to chemicals for about 17 million workers.

Called the permissible exposure limit project, the proposal has been published in the Federal Register and the final standards are expected to be published by next November.

Pendergrass expects the proposal to receive widespread support from business, labor, scientists, professional safety workers and health professionals. "In a single stroke, we are updating and expanding one of the most important ways of protecting workers from the harmful effects of toxic substances," he said.

The proposal would establish lower exposure limits for 234 chemicals already regulated by OSHA at levels based on scientific data available in 1968. Permissible exposure limits would apply for the first time to another 168 substances and existing limits will remain the same on 25 chemicals.

In the case of fluorine, the permissible exposure limit would be raised, Pendergrass said.

Started eight months ago, the project to study the permissible exposure limits and OSHA officials reviewed information from a dozen sources. OSHA proposed exposure limits from the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In 1971, OSHA, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, adopted consensus standards and established federal standards. These included the American National Standards Institute and ACGIH levels.

OSHA is relying on the 1987-88 thresholds limit value list of the ACGIH to identify the substances that need to be addressed, Pendergraas said. This list includes all of the substances in OSHA's present regulatory tables, plus about 200 more recently-added common substances.

The agency compared the exposure limits on the ACGIH list with recommended exposure limits from NIOSH. Where the NIOSH limit was shown to be feasible and more protective than the corresponding ACGIH limits, OSHA proposed the NIOSH limit.

Pendergrass said the proposal includes all substances that have been changed or added to the ACGIH limit since 1968.

Employers must be in compliance with the standard within six months after adoption by using a combination of engineering controls, work practices and personal protective equipment.