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European Commission proposes new exposure limits on workplace carcinogens

A new proposal to limit five cancer-causing chemicals in EU workplaces would improve conditions for more than one million workers, the European Commission has said.

European Commission proposes new exposure limits on workplace carcinogens

It has proposed to include new exposure limit values for five chemicals in the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD). These are: cadmium and its inorganic compounds; beryllium and inorganic beryllium compounds; arsenic acid and its salts, as well as inorganic arsenic compounds; formaldehyde; and 4,4’-methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline). 

The first three carcinogens are used extensively in sectors such as nickel-cadmium battery manufacture, mechanical plating, zinc and copper smelting, foundries, electronics, chemicals, construction, plastics and recycling. 

The new exposure restrictions could not only lead to fewer cases of work-related cancer, but also prevent more than 22,000 cases of work-related illness caused by carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, according to the commission. For example, exposure to beryllium causes an incurable chronic lung disease called berlliosis, in addition to lung cancer. 

Marianne Thyssen, the European Commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility, said: “We propose to limit workers’ exposure to five additional cancer-causing chemicals. This will improve protection for over one million workers in Europe and help create a healthier and safer workplace, which is a core principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights.” 

The EC proposed two previous legislative amendments to the CMD in May 2016 and in January 2017, the first of which was adopted as a Directive (EU) 2017/2398 by the co-legislators at the end of 2017. The second is currently under discussion. 

Around 21 million EU workers are exposed to at least one of the chemical agents listed in the three proposed legislative amendments.


Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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