The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health welcomes updated Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive

29 June 2016, Press release 38/2016

The European Commission is updating its Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (2004/37/EC). The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) considers this revision extremely relevant. The aim of the Directive is to decrease occupational exposure to carcinogenic chemical agents such as hardwood dust and chromium. Cancer is the top cause of work-related deaths (53%) in the European Union.

“The Directive will introduce binding occupational exposure limit values for 13 carcinogenic chemical agents. By limit value, we mean the concentration of a chemical agent that must not be exceeded in the breathing air of a worker during the working day,” explains Helene Stockmann-Juvala , Senior Specialist at FIOH.

The European Commission proposes decreasing the current limit values for hardwood dust and vinyl chloride monomer. Carpenters and woodworking machine operators in particular may be exposed to hardwood dust.

“Currently in Finland, only workers exposed to oak and beech need to be entered into the Register of workers exposed to carcinogenic substances and processes (ASA register). In 2013, 812 workers were reported as being exposed to these types of wood dust.

“As the new proposed limit value will also cover birch tree dust, this number is expected to increase,” predicts Stockmann-Juvala.

Workers involved in waste treatment and lorry drivers may be exposed to vinyl chloride monomer.

Eleven new binding limit values

The European Commission proposes adding 11 chemical agents that currently have no binding occupational exposure limit values in the EU to the Directive. The list includes, for example, hexavalent chromium and quartz.

In Finland, over 7000 workers are annually reported as being exposed to chromium(VI) compounds. The majority of these are welders or flame cutters (2507 workers recorded in the ASA register in 2013). However, it has been estimated that Finland has over 10 000 welders. Other groups of workers exposed to chromium(VI) include those involved in chrome plating, industrial and agriculture mechanics, boilermakers, pipe fitters, and airplane maintenance workers.

“In Finland, we already have health-based occupational exposure limit values (HTP values) for chromium(VI) and quartz, and they are lower than those proposed by the European Commission. In the interest of the health of workers, it would be essential to achieve these lower exposure levels throughout Europe,” says Tiina Santonen , also a senior specialist at FIOH.

Further binding limit values to come – interface with REACH important

The European Commission is planning to announce a second batch of binding limit values at the end of this year. FIOH encourages the development of the procedure related to setting binding limit values, and welcomes any efforts to increase the transparency of the bases for the values.

The uses of and exposure to carcinogenic substances are also regulated by the EU chemicals legislation REACH. Discrepancies between REACH and the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive should be avoided, and overlaps between these legislations minimized.

The binding exposure limit values should also be acceptable under REACH. In order to achieve this, the justifications for these limit values must be transparent, and the scientific data according to which the values have been set should be clear.

In the future it would be worthwhile basing the limit values on agreed, acceptable cancer risk levels.

Want to know more?

Contact:

Tiina Santonen, Senior Specialist, FIOH, tel. +358 0 539 03 43, tiina.santonen@ttl.fi

Helene Stockmann-Juvala, Senior Specialist, FIOH, tel. +358 43 8241071, helene.stockmann-juvala@ttl.fi

Links

European Commission’s press release 13.5.2016 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-1656_en.htm

Media Services

Kristiina Kulha, Head of Communications
FIOH, Helsinki
Tel. +358 30 474 2551, +358 40 548 6914, 
kristiina.kulha[at]ttl.fi

Tiina Kaksonen, Communications Assistant 
FIOH, Oulu
Tel. +358 30 474 3015, +358 50 364 3158
tiina.kaksonen[at]ttl.fi

www.ttl.fi

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work. It promotes occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers. It is an independent institution under public law, working under the administrative sector of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has five regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki. The number of personnel is about 560.

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The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Työterveyslaitos) researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work. It promotes occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers. It is an independent institution under public law, working under the administrative sector of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has five regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki. It employs about 560 people.