The stage is set for a victory in the fight against toxic substances.

UM – 09/2023

The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in the European Parliament voted on 7 September on the draft report by Nikolaj Villumsen (The Left, DK) on the European Commission's proposals to reduce or reintroduce limit values. The draft on the European Commission's proposal to amend Directives 98/24/EC and 2004/37/EC on the protection of workers from the risks related to chemical agents (lead and diisocyanates) was adopted by a large majority with a package of 20 compromise amendments. 37 MEPs voted in favour, four against and three abstained. Confirmation by the parliamentary plenary is still pending, but should just be a matter of time. The Council had adopted its position on 12 June. Thus, informal negotiations to reach a compromise between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council (trialogue negotiations) should no longer stand in the way in the foreseeable future.

The aim of the amendment to the Directive is to better protect the health of workers who may be occupationally exposed to lead and diisocyanathene. To this end, exposure is to be reduced. On the one hand, stricter limit values for lead, on the other, the first-time introduction of limit values for diisocyanates. Both compounds are used in building renovations and in the manufacture of batteries, wind turbines and more. Among other things, lead is toxic to reproduction, diisocyanate causes skin and respiratory problems. 

EU limit values for diisocyanates for the first time

Anyone who has followed the consultations in both legislative bodies knows: there is consensus. There is widespread agreement on the level of the limit values. For diisocyanates, the time-weighted average over eight hours should be 6 µg NCO/m3 and the short-term value should be 12 µg NCO/m3. Transitionally, until the end of 2028, the limit values are 10 and 20 µg NCO/m3 respectively. The limit values are then to be reviewed the following year.

Stricter limits for lead

For lead, a maximum allowable concentration of 0.03 mg/m3 air, time-weighted over eight hours, is considered appropriate. The biological limit value measured in the blood should not exceed 15 µg Pb/100ml blood. A transitional value of 35 µg Pb/100 ml blood is to apply until the end of 2028, so that companies can use the time to introduce the necessary risk management measures. For women of childbearing age, lead levels in the blood should not be higher than a lead level of 4.5 µgPb/100 ml blood, which is used in the absence of scientific evidence.

Deviating from this, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in the European Parliament favours a maximum allowable concentration of 0.04 mg/m3. Here, it follows the risk assessment of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). In addition, the guideline value for women of childbearing age is to be reviewed every five years. Workers who have been exposed to lead for a very long time should be employed elsewhere from blood levels of 30 µg Pb/100 ml blood. Workers with lead levels in the blood between 15 and 30 µg Pb/100ml could continue to perform tasks associated with lead exposure if a decrease in their blood lead level can be detected. However, these workers should be subjected to increased and continuous medical monitoring to ensure a downward trend in their blood lead levels. The Council refrains from setting specific values here and advocates the initiation of regular medical monitoring.

Further need for action

In addition, the Employment Committee proposes to lay down new rules for the limit values for cobalt and benzene. In addition, firefighters are to be better protected. This is because this occupational group is exposed to combustion products from fires, building materials, chemicals in extinguishing foams, flame retardants and diesel exhaust fumes.