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6 November 2017

Netherlands: Health Council proposes an occupational exposure limit for DEEEs

An occupational exposure limit (OEL) for diesel engine exhaust emissions (DEEEs) has been proposed in a document published by the Health Council of the Netherlands on 26 October 2017. Germany is likewise preparing to adopt an OEL, albeit a higher one than that being proposed by the Netherlands. The two countries will be the first EU Member States to impose a limit in the hope of reducing workers’ exposure to diesel emissions.

The manufacturing standards met by the diesel engines used in workplaces vary depending on the year in which they were manufactured and the way in which they are used; for example, the standards which apply to engines in road vehicles impose lower emissions levels than those which apply to non-road vehicles (such as trains or ships). The Dutch experts believe that it will be many years before new engines have been installed to replace all those in the current fleet of vehicles, meaning that, in the short term, workers will continue to be exposed to emissions from engines complying with either the old rules or the transitional rules.

DEEEs are a complex mixture including a gaseous phase (generally measured on the basis of NOx and CO levels) and a particulate phase (for which elementary carbon is the most significant marker of exposure).

DEEEs are implicated in many diseases, in particular lung cancers, and several studies have also revealed a link with bladder cancers. Other conditions thought to be associated with DEEEs include pulmonary diseases and cardiovascular disorders.

The Health Council of the Netherlands believes that 4 per 1 000 workers will die from cancer when exposed to levels of elementary carbon at or above 1.03 µg/m³ over a period of 40 years. The level of exposure would need to drop to 0.011 µg/m³ in order to reduce this risk to 4 per 100 000.

Experts therefore recommend that workers should not be exposed to DEEE levels greater than those experienced by the population in urban areas.

The report is currently at the public consultation stage, and legislative provisions are expected to be adopted during the first six months of 2018.

The protection of workers against DEEEs is currently a focal point of the debates surrounding the revision of the EU’s Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, and the European Parliament will set out its position on the issue in January 2018. Trade union organisations are calling for DEEEs to be included within the Directive’s scope and for an OEL to be adopted at EU level.

The issue will also be debated at the ETUI conference ‘Work and Cancer’ on 14-15 November in Brussels.

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