April 7, 2022

EU Revises OEL for Benzene, Adds New OELs for Two Substances

A new amendment to the European Union’s 2004 Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive includes a revised occupational exposure limit for benzene as well as two new OELs for acrylonitrile and nickel and its compounds. This update marks the fourth revision of the directive, which sets maximum concentrations for cancer-causing chemicals in workplace air.

The amendment sets the limit value for the carcinogen acrylonitrile at 1 mg/m3 (0.45 ppm). It also introduces a short-term limit value of 4 mg/m3 (1.8 ppm) for acrylonitrile. The new limit values for occupational exposure to nickel compounds, which the amendment explains can result in dermal sensitization and desensitization of the respiratory tract, are 0.01 mg/m3 for the respirable fraction and 0.05 mg/m3 for the inhalable fraction. The revised limit value for benzene is 0.2 ppm (0.66 mg/m3). The amendment calls for transitional periods spanning the next few years to address the difficulties that certain industry sectors may have in complying with these updated limits in the short term.

NIOSH describes acrylonitrile as “a toxic, colorless to pale-yellow liquid, harmful to the eyes, skin, lungs, and nervous system.” According to the agency, workers at risk of being exposed to the substance include those involved in the manufacture of acrylic fibers and plastics, those working in the coatings and adhesives industries, and workers in factories that produce nitrile rubber products. Exposure to nickel, which NIOSH says can harm the lungs, stomachs, and kidneys of exposed workers, can occur in workplaces such as nickel processing plants and factories where nickel alloys are used. And exposure to benzene, which is found in products made from coal and petroleum, can affect workers in factories where steel or rubber is made or processed, firefighters who are exposed to toxic smoke, and workers in gas stations, shoemaking or repair facilities, and laboratories. According to NIOSH, workers in the printing industry and others who work with printing inks may also be at risk of benzene exposure.

The full text of the amendment to the EU’s Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive can be found on the EUR-Lex website, which provides online access to EU law and legal documents. Information about OEL activities in Europe appears on the website of the European Chemicals Agency.