Introduction In Europe the main legislation to ensure control of occupational carcinogens is Directive 2004/37/EC on the Protection of Workers from the Risks Related to Exposure to Carcinogens or Mutagens at Work. The EC DG Employment sponsored a socioeconomic, health and environmental analysis of possible changes to the Directive. This paper provides the background to the project and a broad overview of results.
Methods The project involved collecting available information about the circumstances of exposure for 25 substances. These data were used to assess the exposures, which in turn provided the basis for assessing the cancer burden from past and future use. Health costs and benefits were evaluated for no intervention and for the introduction of up to three possible Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs). Compliance costs were separately estimated.
Results Eleven of the substances were human carcinogens, four were probably carcinogenic and ten were possible human carcinogens. For six substances, there are more than a million workers in the EU currently exposed and for six substances there are less then 10,000 exposed. If there is no action, it was estimated there would be more than attributable 700,000 cancer deaths over the next 60-years. However, there were only seven substances-OEL combinations where there was a substantial health benefit from introducing or reducing an OEL at the levels assessed. In general, total compliance costs were greater than monetized health benefits, mainly because of the delay in accruing benefits because of latency and the monetary value of these benefits being discounted in the calculation.
Discussion The strongest cases for the introduction of an OEL are for: RCS, chrome VI and hardwood dust. Other substances where the weight of evidence supports the introduction of a limit include: diesel engine exhaust emissions, rubber fume, benzo[a]pyrene, trichloroethylene, hydrazine, epichlorohydrin, o-toluidine, used engine oil and MDA.
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