EU Takes Further Steps to Protect Workers from Cancer-Causing Chemicals

In this article, we discuss a press release, from the European Commission, which explains how it is seeking to take further action against cancer causing chemical agents. We last reported on the EU actions in edition 198 (here), where there was discussion on the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive 2004/37/EC2 (CMD). The CMD was introduced to reduce deaths caused by work-related cancer which, according to statistics, is at 52% on an annual basis. The CMD seeks to limit or eliminate exposure to chemical agents.

The latest press release mentions five additional cancer-causing chemicals, of which workplace exposure limits will be implemented. The ‘new exposure limit values’ will be included in the CMD. The carcinogens, which have been selected by the Commission, are:

  • Cadmium and its inorganic compounds;
  • Beryllium and inorganic beryllium compounds;
  • Arsenic acid and its salts, as well as inorganic arsenic compounds;
  • Formaldehyde and;
  • 4,4'-Methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline) (MOCA).[i]

The Commission has identified that the first three, out of the five carcinogens listed, where to be found in these sectors:

'... cadmium production and refining, nickel-cadmium battery manufacture, mechanical plating, zinc and copper smelting, foundries, glass, laboratories, electronics, chemicals, construction, healthcare, plastics and recycling.’[ii] 

The initiative intends, not only reduce the number of work related cancer cases, but also to provide better overall health to reduce the prevalence of other diseases caused by carcinogenic and mutagenic substances.

Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, summarised the current progress of the Commission, as follows:

Today, the Commission has taken another important step towards fighting work-related cancer and other relevant health problems on the work floor. We propose to limit workers' exposure to five additional cancer-causing chemicals. This will improve protection for over 1 million workers in Europe and help create a healthier and safer workplace, which is a core principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights’[iii]

We will report on any further developments to the CMD in due course.


[i]‘Commission takes further action to better protect workers against cancer-causing chemicals’ (5 April 2018 European Commission) accessed 11 April 2018)

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid