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Occupational exposure limits: ANSES publishes seven new reports as part of its permanent mission

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News of 13/10/2010

13 October 2010

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES)(1) today published seven collective expert assessment reports as part of its permanent mission to draw up recommendations for occupational exposure limits (OELs).

For four substances(2), the agency recommends significantly reducing the OELs currently in force in order to reduce worker exposure.
For a fifth substance, 2-butoxyethanol and its acetate, the agency has just added to the OEL it defined in 2008 by recommending a biological exposure limit which will make it possible to monitor the actual exposure of workers.

These recommendations are intended to serve as a basis for discussion by joint labour-management bodies under the aegis of the Ministry of Labour with a view to defining statutory occupational exposure limits.

1 - Hexavalent chromium and its compounds, used mainly in metallurgy for surface treatment and manufacturing aeronautical superalloys, are known to be carcinogenic for humans. According to the survey by Sumer (2003), 108,000 employees may be exposed to these compounds.
In accordance with the other work it has undertaken with respect to the REACH regulations, ANSES recommends that hexavalent chromium and its compounds only be used if they are strictly necessary and if there are no possible substitutes.

The Agency recommends for hexavalent chromium and its compounds, setting an 8-hour OEL of 1 µg.m-3 which corresponds to the lowest value which can be quantified in the workplace by currently available methods. According to the calculations made by ANSES of excessive health risks, this value corresponds to a risk of one additional case of lung cancer for every 100 workers exposed throughout their professional lives.

2 - Beryllium and its compounds, which are used in many sectors such as metallurgy and aeronautics, are known carcinogens for humans. In this context, ANSES reiterates that a priority should be placed on finding substitutes and that the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable) should be applied. The available data do not currently allow the carcinogenic risks associated with exposure to this substance to be quantified.

Moreover, ANSES recommends setting an 8-hour OEL at 0.01 _g.m-3 for beryllium and its compounds in order to prevent chronic berylliosis and a sensitising effect. ANSES also recommends adding a "skin(3)" notation as the consequences of sensitisation through dermal exposure might lead to immuno-allergic reactions of concern and furthermore, recommends monitoring the levels of surface contamination of work stations and equipment in order to limit dermal exposure.

3 - Styrene (also known as vinyl benzene) is widely used for the manufacture of plastic and rubber materials. ANSES recommends reducing the current value in force by almost 50% to an 8-hour OEL at 100 mg.m-3 in order to prevent potential neurotoxic effects. It also recommends setting a short-term 15-min OEL at 200 mg.m-3 to avoid exposure peaks likely to cause respiratory irritation.

It emphasises the risk associated with dermal exposure by recommending a specific "skin" notation.

4 - Perchloroethylene (also known as tetrachloroethylene) is a solvent which is used, in particular, for dry cleaning clothes and stripping metals.
On the basis of available data, ANSES estimates that a carcinogenic effect related to exposure to this solvent cannot be excluded. However, since there is not enough data available at the current time to establish a dose-effect relationship as far as the carcinogenic effect is concerned, ANSES recommends setting an 8-hour OEL at 138 mg.m-3 to prevent neurotoxic effects and the setting of a complementary short-term 15-min OEL at 275 mg.m-3 in order to limit the effects of exposure peaks.

5 - 2-butoxyethanol and its acetate are solvents which are mainly used in the rubber and plastics industries as well as in the printing industry. For these two glycol ethers, ANSES recommends setting, for the first time, a biological exposure limit for workers.
This exposure limit, based on a urine concentration for 2-butoxyacetic acid after hydrolysis of 100 mg.g-1 of creatinine at the end of a work shift, is intended to verify exposure through breathing and dermal contact; it corresponds to an 8-hour OEL previously recommended by the Agency(4).

6 - Publication of two methodology reports
The first report is a reference document describing the methodology used to elaborate and measure the OELs (atmospheric and biological limits) recommended by ANSES. It specifies in particular the scientific elements used for the collective expert assessment. It also ensures that the work is undertaken in a consistent way.

The second report addresses the necessity of limiting the number of exposure peaks in a day's work for substances which have been assigned a short-term OEL of 15 min without an 8-hour OEL. It thus completes a previous report concerning the issue of exposure peaks(5). In publishing this report, ANSES introduces for substances which are known to be a strong irritant or corrosive or which might cause a potentially irreversible serious effect for very short-term exposure, a new concept of exposure limit: the "ceiling value". This is an atmospheric concentration which should not be exceeded at any time during the working day.

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(1) Since 1 July 2010 ANSES has taken over all of the missions previously entrusted to the French Food Safety Agency (AFSSA) and the French Agency for Environmental, Occupational and Health Safety (AFSSET).
(2) Hexavalent chromium and its compounds, beryllium and its compounds, styrene and perchloroethylene.
(3) This notation indicates that dermal exposure must be taken into account and requires the implementation of appropriate preventive measures.
(4) AFSSET, December 2008. 2-butoxyethanol- Evaluation of effects on health and methods for measuring exposure levels in the workplace.
(5) AFSSET, June 2009 exposure peaks in a work day: recommendations for occupational exposure limits intended to limit the significance and number of exposure peaks in a work day - part 1: case of substances having an 8h-OEL but without short-term OEL.