October 6, 2022

European Commission Proposes Lower Asbestos OEL

The European Commission has proposed to lower the European Union’s occupational exposure limit for asbestos by an order of magnitude, from 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter as an eight-hour time-weighted average to 0.01 f/cm3. The current OEL was adopted in 2003. All forms of asbestos have been banned in the EU since 2005, but the substance is still present in many older buildings that are likely to renovated in the coming years as part of the European Green Deal.

According to the proposal, the number of workers exposed to asbestos in the EU ranges from 4.1 to 7.3 million. The vast majority—97 percent—work in construction and related professions. These workers are exposed through the handling of asbestos-containing materials during renovation, maintenance, repair, and demolition activities. Other exposed workers include those in waste management, mining, firefighting, and tunnel excavation and maintenance.

Denmark, the Netherlands, and France previously adopted OELs below the current EU OEL of 0.1 f/cm3. In a fourth EU member state, Germany, the OEL is 0.1 f/cm3, but mandatory guidelines are considered to bring exposure concentrations below 0.01 f/cm3 in practice.

Maintaining the current regulation for occupational exposure to asbestos, which is known as the Asbestos at Work Directive (AWD), would result in an estimated 884 cases of cancer and 707 deaths over the next 40 years, according to the European Commission, while adopting the proposed amendment would prevent an estimated 663 cases of cancer.

The proposal would retain phase contrast microscopy (PCM) as the laboratory measurement method for asbestos but would encourage the use of electron microscopy where possible.

More information is available from the European Commission website.


Read “Asbestos in Focus” in the August 2016 issue of The Synergist to learn about NIOSH method 7400 for identifying asbestos and other fibers by PCM.