The European Commission wants to limit EU workers’ exposure to five cancer-causing chemicals as well as 21 substances that have already been the subject of a limitation or a proposal for a restriction since the beginning of its mandate in 2014.

The Commission has proposed an amendment to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive to list five highly toxic carcinogens on its list of high-risk cancer-causing chemicals, including, 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) (MOCA).

These substances are often found in plastics used in the building and construction sectors, as well as in glass, electronics, and chemicals. The exposure values proposed by the European executive define the maximum level of concentration of a carcinogenic chemical in ambient air in the workplace.

Assessing the monetary benefits of action against carcinogens and contaminant reduction in health is challenging, according to some experts. The quantified benefits for workers linked to the prevention of nasopharyngeal cancer and sensory irritation from the above substances are estimated to range between €1 – 5 billion.

Among the diseases that the chemicals and mutagens cause nasopharyngeal cancer, leukaemia, tumours liver, lung, bladder, kidney and skin cancer, chronic beryllium disease, allergies or asthma, beryllium respiratory sensitisation, skin sensitisation, cardiovascular, renal, hepatic and haematological effects, proteinuria, osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, cardiovascular complications and immunotoxicity.

This third revision of the directive “will improve the protection of more than one million workers in Europe and help make the workplace safer, which is a key principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights” according to Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen.