February 16, 2023

European Commission Proposes Lower OEL for Lead

The European Commission has proposed to lower the European Union’s occupational exposure limit for lead from 0.15 mg/m3 to 0.03 mg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average. The commission also proposes to lower the biological limit value (BLV) for lead from 70 micrograms per 100 milliliters of blood (70 µg/100 ml) to 15 µg/100 ml. The current OEL and BLV have not been updated since 1982, when they were first adopted under a directive on lead. According to the commission, “a significantly reduced exposure limit” for lead will help prevent health issues among workers, including those that affect reproduction and fetal development. For comparison, U.S. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit and NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit for lead are both 50 µg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA.

According to the impact assessment (PDF) accompanying the proposal, approximately 50,000 to 150,000 workers are exposed to lead in the EU. Workers engaged in the production of lead, batteries, lead sheets, ammunition, lead oxides, and frits are exposed to lead. Other exposed workers may include those who work in foundries and in the production of articles of alloys with lead as well as those who produce and use pigments for paint and plastics. Exposures can also occur further downstream in the product chain, the commission explains. For example, workers in demolition, repair, and scrap management as well as those in waste management and soil remediation are also at risk of exposure to lead.

The European Commission is also proposing the first exposure limits at the EU level for diisocyanates, which the commission describes as “various chemicals that are often grouped based on their common properties, and which can cause respiratory diseases like asthma.” An estimated 4.2 million workers in the EU are exposed to these chemicals. For the nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen group of diisocyanates, the commission proposes an OEL of 6 µg/m³ as an 8-hour TWA and a 15-minute short-term exposure limit of 12 µg/m³. To alert employers and workers of potential exposures via routes other than inhalation, the commission is also proposing a dermal and respiratory sensitization notation as well as a skin notation for these chemicals.

A news release issued by the European Commission describes its proposed changes as “key to protect workers in the context of advancing the transition to climate neutrality.”

“Both lead and diisocyanates are likely to be used, for example, in the production of batteries and in processes to make electric vehicles lighter, in wind turbines or as insulating materials during building renovations,” the commission states.

For further details, see the European Commission news release. Links to download related documents can be found near the bottom of the release.