Diesel engine exhaust joins EU's carcinogens hit list

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The EU is to introduce a limit value for diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEE), singling out the amendment – one of eight made to a carcinogens or mutagens directive - as the chief weapon in the fight against work related cancer.

Claude Rolin, vice chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs said: "This agreement is a successful outcome, as we managed to introduce a limit value for diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEE), after months of negotiation.

“In the European Union, more than 12 million workers are exposed occupationally to DEEE. This second revision of the directive gives a clear signal: monitoring occupational exposure to more and more harmful substances substantially strengthens workers’ protection. We need to constantly monitor this. Cancer is the leading cause of work-related death in the E.U. It is unacceptable that workers lose their lives while trying to earn a living."

Underground and tunnel workers are covered by the new EU directive, expected to be finalised in December. Photograph: iStock / Oliver Förstner

EU member states will have two years to transpose it into their legislation, once it has been formally published as law after European Parliament meet on 6 December. It will be five years for the sectors of underground mining and tunnel construction.

The EU Permanent Representatives Committee made the announcement on 24 October after the agreement was reached by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to amend directive 2004/37/EC.

TUC commented in its new guide on diesel exhaust in the workplace report issued on 26 October: “The TUC welcomes the decision by the EU to list diesel exhaust as a carcinogen but we must remember that there are no safe levels of exposure to a carcinogen and a limit at the level proposed would lead to employers thinking that this is a safe level to have in the workplace, while instead they must by law get it down as low as is practical.”

The union added that that 0,05 mg/m3 limit would ‘certainly…continue to see people die through diesel exhaust.’

The TUC reminds that under the current laws, there is no exposure limit in the UK for DEE. Instead, responsibilities are covered under COSHH which says employers have a legal duty to reduce exposure as far as is reasonably practical.

Workers at risk include professional drivers, including lorry and fork lift drivers, construction workers, underground workers, maintenance workers, and people who work outdoors on busy streets or in buildings next to a road or railway.

In addition to DEE, there are seven other new exposure limits for carcinogens or mutagens. These include for mineral oils that have been used before in internal combustion engines and epichlorohydrine (used in the production of plastics and epoxy glues and resins), as well as Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons mixtures (typically used in the burning process such as from combustion engine exhaust).

Whether Britain will adopt any of the new limits in the legislation depends on its future relationship with the EU and the terms of any trade agreements.

EU press release here 

Toxicity, a Safety Management article about outdoor workers and air pollution here 



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