Europe’s chromium VI limit accepts 1-in-10 cancer risk

An Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) for chromium VI proposed by the European Commission has been set at a level it knows will see 1-in-10 exposed at that level develop occupational cancer.

The proposed limit of 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m3) would “render fatal lung cancer in every tenth worker over a working-life exposure”, said the non-governmental chemical safety group ChemSec. It bases its conclusion on a dose-response curve used by the EC’s official European Chemical Agency (ECHA).

The proposed standard is considerably higher than those in place in a number of EC member states, including France (1μg/m3) and Sweden, Lithuania and Denmark (all 5μg/m3).

There is also a danger the standard could be cited as an alternative to compliance with the REACH chemical registration law, ChemSec warns. “The new chromium VI OEL could open up a possibility for companies to use this chemical without having to apply for authorisation,” it notes.

“No doubt some industry will try to use this argument in order to avoid having to apply for authorisation. However, looking at these proposed numbers and knowing the different scope of the two regulations it is crystal clear that workers protection legislation could not qualify as equivalent to REACH” so should not be allowed, said Theresa Kjell, a ChemSec policy adviser.

A number of the 13 new limits proposed by the European Commission are considered by unions to be inadequate. These include a 0.1mg/m3 limit for respirable silica. This is the UK’s current standard, but twice the 0.05mg/m3 standard being introduced in the US and four times Canada’s 0.025mg/m3 limit. In the EU, Finland, Italy and Portugal already have a silica standard at or below the 0.05mg/m3 US limit.

Steven Wodka, a leading US occupational disease lawyer, said he was concerned about the proposed limits for some of the other substances, citing the case of ortho-toluidine, a potent cause of bladder cancer.

UK unions say time to get rid of asbestos

It is time to get rid of asbestos for good, the TUC has said. Britain’s biggest industrial killer, responsible for thousands of cancer deaths every year, “can still be found in around half a million non-domestic premises and probably around a million domestic ones”, the UK union federation says.

The TUC says the official line that asbestos is best left where it is, managed and undisturbed, isn’t realistic. “It is extremely unlikely that asbestos is never going to be disturbed if it is left in place for decades. There can be few cupboards, boilers, wall panels and pipes that have had no work done on them since the 1970s, when asbestos use was at its peak,” it notes.

“There is therefore considerable doubt that most of the asbestos that is to be found in buildings is going to lie undisturbed for the next 20 years, let alone the next hundred… So long as asbestos is present there is a risk.” The TUC has published a new guide for workplace representatives on how to negotiate “to get rid of this killer dust once and for all.”

The guide says “there is a need to ensure that all workplaces have a programme of identifying, managing and safely removing and disposing of all asbestos.” And the government should introduce a law requiring this to happen, it maintains.

According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “There is no place for complacency. It is not only your members that are risk, it is anyone who enters the premises, or who in years to come has to work on refurbishing or demolishing the building. Remember that your workplace could be one of those that the HSE estimates puts 1.3 million tradespeople at risk from asbestos. By ensuring that it is safely removed and disposed of, we can protect our members, and anyone working in the building in the future.”

Europe proposes new cancer exposure standards

The European Commission has announced new ‘binding occupational exposure limits’ for 13 cancer-causing substances in a move the Europe-wide union body ETUC has called a ‘cancer victory’ for workers.

“This is important news for the health of workers across Europe,” said Esther Lynch, ETUC confederal secretary, “and a hard-won victory for workers and their trade unions. Although some of the exposure limits are inadequate, and some substances are not included, this is a significant step forward. After 12 years of inaction the European Commission has finally listened to demands to protect workers better from work-related cancer.”

She added: “I am expecting the Commission to put forward exposure limits for at least 15 more substances by the end of the year.”

ETUC notes that exposure limits do not replace employers’ obligation to eliminate and substitute toxic substances in the workplace. It says 100,000 people die in the EU every year from preventable work-related cancers, adding it has called repeatedly for limits to be extended to more cancer-causing substances.

The Commission’s proposal for binding occupational exposure limits for 13 substances brings to 16 the total number of substances covered by exposure limits under EU law.

One of the new limits considered by unions to be inadequate is a 0.1mg/m3 limit for respirable silica. This is the UK’s current standard, but twice the 0.05mg/m3 standard being introduced in the US and four times Canada’s 0.025mg/m3 limit. In the EU, Finland, Italy and Portugal already have a silica standard at or below the 0.05mg/m3 US limit.

Steven Wodka, a leading US occupational disease lawyer, said he was concerned about the proposed limits for some of the other substances, citing the case of ortho-toluidine, a potent cause of bladder cancer.

He said the EC-recommended standard was never exceeded at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company plant in Niagara Falls, USA. However the plant still had a bladder cancer rate more than six times the expected level in the highest exposed groups, and more than double the expected level across the workforce.


Global union IUF slams EC on chemicals retreat

Voting in the European Parliament, public opinion and credible, independent scientific research appear increasingly irrelevant to the European Commission (EC) when it comes to the protection of public health and the environment, the global farm and food union has charged.

Peter Rossman, of the plough-to-plate union federation IUF, writing in Social Europe, noted: “An estimated 100,000 workers die each year in the EU from work-related cancers, prompting the ETUC to demand stronger laws and enforcement. Yet we are experiencing a generalised retreat from regulation.”

Rossman cites the case of glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and the world’s most widely used herbicide – whose authorisation for use in the EU is currently up for renewal. He says despite growing evidence of cancer, reproductive and other health risks, the EC has proposed renewing the approval of glyphosate for the maximum period of 15 years.

The European Parliament has called for a highly restricted seven year renewal, and has said the EC had exceeded its statutory powers. But, according to Rossman: “There are no democratic mechanisms in place to stop the Commission from cutting a deal with the corporate agrochemical giants which would keep Europe locked into the deadly spiral of increasing pesticide applications for another decade.”

He concluded: “The rush to glyphosate renewal is part and parcel of the EU’s general retreat from regulation… Nothing is more political than food, which involves, or should involve, choices about what we produce and how we produce it, bearing in mind that foodworkers are in the frontline of exposure to the hazards which consumers experience as residues.”

Study links many jobs to non-Hodgkin lymphoma

New research has identified a wide range of occupations associated with a risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a group of related cancers affecting the body’s immune system.

The large-scale study, conducted by more than 30 researchers from 13 countries, included an analysis of 10 international non-Hodgkin lymphoma studies consisting of about 10,000 cases and 12,000 controls.

The paper, published in the April 2016 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives,  concluded: “This pooled analysis supports a role for textile-, hairdressing-, and farming-related exposures in the development of NHL. Additional occupations associated with NHL or NHL subtypes include cleaners, painters, printers, and wood workers. The results by sex indicate that occupational exposures may play a role in NHL for both women and men, but the specific occupations involved differ between the sexes.”

It continued: “The large numbers of participants and the application of standard NHL and occupational classification systems allowed us to make estimates of relative risk by NHL subtype, forming an important step towards improving our understanding of NHL etiology. The findings of the present study can be further refined at the next stage, after specific exposures are identified in detailed exposure studies.”

Two kinds of NHL were especially associated with employment as women’s hairdressers and two types of NHL were especially associated with work in the textile industry.

The authors postulate that exposure to solvents in many of the jobs identified may play a role in the development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Greenpeace puts its chemical detox research database online

A campaign by environmental group Greenpeace “for a toxic-free future where hazardous chemicals are no longer produced, used and dumped into our environment” was behind its decision to create a large and growing ‘chemical detox’ database. “This includes chemicals which are persistent, toxic, bioaccumulative, carcinogenic and disruptive to human hormones,” it says.

The two year project has resulted in a database already including entries on over 17,000 substances. Initially intended as an internal resource, Greenpeace has now made the database freely available online. “After completing it, we shared it with others who are trying to detox the planet, with companies, government and citizens who are dealing with toxic pollution in one way or another,” Greenpeace notes.

“This research doesn’t claim to hold the whole truth and offer all solutions. It is simply a contribution on the road towards a toxic-free future. It is open.”

France to ban some glyphosate weedkillers

France’s health and safety agency has decided to ban weedkillers that combine the chemicals glyphosate and tallowamine because of concerns over possible health risks.

Agweek reports the ANSES agency has sent a letter to manufacturers informing them that it intends to withdraw the authorisation for such products, said Francoise Weber, the watchdog’s deputy director-general. “It is not possible to guarantee that compositions containing glyphosate and tallowamine do not entail negative effects on human health,” Weber said.

Glyphosate, a common ingredient in weedkillers such as Monsanto’s Roundup, has been the subject of fierce debate in the past year since a World Health Organisation body classified it as probably carcinogenic to humans, and European Union countries are discussing whether or not to extend its EU-wide licence. France’s environment minister has been pushing for an EU-wide ban on glyphosate-based products.

Earlier in April, global food and farming union IUF and pesticides safety campaign PAN International called for a deluge of messages to be sent to the European Commission and its relevant bodies “urging them to ban glyphosate in the EU and to provide comprehensive support for a safer, saner food system which does not put agricultural workers in the front lines of exposure and inject massive quantities of toxic chemicals into the environment”.

Ban glyphosate, get off the pesticide treadmill

Campaigners have said the European Commission must be stopped from proceeding with the renewed authorisation in the European Union of the toxic herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and the world’s most widely-used herbicide.

The demand from the global food and farming union IUF and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International, comes as renewed authorisation is being pushed through despite an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) warning last year that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans and other evidence of the impact of glyphosate on food and health.

IUF and PAN International are calling for a deluge of messages to be sent to the European Commission and its relevant bodies “urging them to ban glyphosate in the EU and to provide comprehensive support for a safer, saner food system which does not put agricultural workers in the front lines of exposure and inject massive quantities of toxic chemicals into the environment.”

  • Sign the IUF/PAN letter to Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament.


On silica, US does what the UK says can’t be done

The US government has gone where the UK had refused to go, introducing new rules to sharply reduce workplace exposures to silica. The 24 March 2016 move by the US Labor Department means the US will halve the occupational exposure standard from the level it currently shares with the UK, 0.1mg/m3, to 0.05mg/m3.

The potentially deadly mineral is encountered in a wide range of jobs from construction, to mining, ceramics, stone masonry, quarrying, brickmaking and fracking. The change will be phased in from June this year, with construction given one year’s grace to meet the requirements and other industries longer.

US officials estimate that the new silica standard, when fully in effect, will save hundreds of lives a year. Exposure to silica is linked to lung cancer, the often fatal lung-scarring condition silicosis and other respiratory, kidney and auto-immune diseases.

US labor secretary Thomas E Perez said he thought that many companies would easily adapt to the new standard because inexpensive equipment is available to control and trap the release of silica dust. US regulators have also argued that a tighter standard will drive improvements in monitoring and control technologies.

“This is no different than the story of asbestos,” the labor secretary said, commenting on decades of delays in introducing the standard. “After 40 years, the political will has finally caught up with the science.”

David Michaels, head of the US government safety regulator OSHA, said: “Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. Today, we are taking action to bring worker protections into the 21st century in ways that are feasible and economical for employers to implement.”

The new standard was welcomed by unions including the national union federation AFL-CIO, the National Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health, the American Public Health Association, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Public Citizen.

AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka said: “We applaud the Obama administration for issuing these lifesaving measures,” adding: “The labor movement has fought for these standards for decades. We will continue to fight to defend these rules from the certain industry attacks that will come, so that workers are finally protected from this deadly dust.”

Unions and workplace health campaigners in the UK have pressed the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to match the US standard, which was finalised pending official ratification in August 2013.

HSE has argued the lower level now being introduced in the US is neither achievable nor practically measurable, issues raised in extensive US government hearings on the draft standard and dismissed comprehensively over two years ago.

Banking fines to fund new UK mesothelioma research centre

A new £5 million centre in the UK is to spearhead research on the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma. The initiative was included in Chancellor George Osborne’s March 2016 budget.

The full budget document notes that banking fines would be used to provide funds “to support military charities and other good causes”, including: “National Mesothelioma Centre £5 million – to establish a centre of research in the fight against mesothelioma, which is directly affecting Service Veterans.”

Chris Knighton, 69, who has dedicated her life to campaigning to help those affected by the deadly condition since her husband Mick died from the asbestos-related cancer in 2001, welcomed the move.

Chris, who set up the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, said: “I’m delighted the government has allocated £5m to establish a Mesothelioma Centre for Research. Mesothelioma has been underfunded for decades and its fantastic the government has now recognised it’s one of the most challenging of cancers; as it’s only through high calibre research can we ever improve diagnosis, treatment and care for those affected by this devastating disease.”

Dave Anderson, the Labour MP for Blaydon, said: “This is welcome although I am only giving it two cheers because the funding is one-off and should be annual so that mesothelioma research is put on a par with other comparable cancers. But from acorns come oaks and pressure will continue to do the right thing.”

Initial reports say the national centre is set to be based at Imperial College, London, although asbestos victims’ groups and mesothelioma researchers have called for a more extensive discussion of how the funds are allocated.

A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).