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.

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