March 28, 2024

EU Lowers Exposure Limits for Lead, Establishes Limits for Diisocyanates

New rules published this month in the Official Journal of the European Union set stricter occupational exposure limits for lead and establish the first exposure limits at the EU level for diisocyanates, which the rules describe as “skin and respiratory sensitizers (asthmagens) that can have harmful respiratory health effects.” The rules lower the EU’s OEL for lead from 0.15 mg/m3 to 0.03 mg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) and revise the biological limit value (BLV) for lead to 15 micrograms of lead per 100 milliliters of blood (15 µg Pb/100 ml), down from 70 µg Pb/100 ml. A BLV of 30 µg Pb/100 ml will apply for a transitional period until Dec. 31, 2028, to allow time for stakeholders to implement risk management measures and adapt production processes.

This is the first time that the EU’s OEL and BLV have been updated since 1982, when they were first adopted under a directive on lead. According to the European Commission, the new exposure limits for lead will help improve worker protection and help prevent health issues that affect reproduction and fetal development.

Exposure to diisocyanates can cause health effects such as occupational asthma, isocyanate sensitization and bronchial hyper-responsiveness, and dermal occupational disease. “It is not scientifically possible to identify levels below which exposure to diisocyanates would not lead to adverse health effects,” the text of the new rules explains.

“Instead, an exposure-risk relationship can be established, facilitating the setting of an occupational exposure limit by taking into account the level of excess risk,” the Official Journal of the European Union states. “As a consequence, limit values for all diisocyanates should be established in order to reduce the risk by lowering exposure levels.”

The new EU rules establish for all diisocyanates an OEL of 6 µg NCO/m³ as an 8-hour TWA and a 15-minute short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 12 µg NCO/m³. For these limits, “NCO” refers to “isocyanate functional groups of the diisocyanate compounds.” To alert employers and workers of potential exposures via routes other than inhalation, the rules assign a dermal and respiratory sensitization notation as well as a skin notation for these chemicals. A less strict OEL and STEL for diisocyanates—10 μg NCO/m3 and 20 μg NCO/m3, respectively—will apply during a transitional period that is intended to allow stakeholders time to navigate feasibility issues related to technical measurement and to implement risk management measures. The transitional period for diisocyanates runs through 2028.

The directive requires EU member states to adjust laws, regulations, and administrative provisions in compliance with the new directive by April 9, 2026.

Further information can be found in the news release of the European Commission. The full text of the directive is available in multiple languages from the EUR-Lex website, which provides access to EU laws and other legal documents.