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RAC recommends an occupational exposure limit for benzene


At its March meeting, the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) also recommended occupational exposure limits (OELs) for two other substances: nickel and its compounds and acrylonitrile. These opinions conclude the response to the European Commission, which for the first time asked RAC to assess the scientific basis for setting OELs.

Helsinki, 21 March 2018 – Benzene is a genotoxic carcinogen, known to cause leukaemia. RAC is of the opinion that a threshold based on the indirect (i.e. not directly DNA-damaging) genotoxic effects of benzene in workers can be used to derive a new occupational exposure limit. The proposed OEL of 0.05 parts per million will protect workers from leukaemia as well as other adverse health effects. Exposure to benzene occurs in the petroleum and chemical industries and also as a result of gasoline engine emissions and combustion products.

RAC also proposed an OEL of 0.45 parts per million for acrylonitrile, a monomer used in many plastics. For nickel and its compounds, it proposed OELs of 0.005 mg/m3 for respirable dust and 0.03 mg/m3 for inhalable dust. The proposals are based on the latest scientific evidence and were subject to public consultation. In addition, industry and trade unions were able to attend the RAC plenary sessions and provide further comments on the Committee’s draft opinions.

These opinions follow the European Commission’s request in March 2017 for RAC to provide within a year scientific opinions on five OELs for chemicals under Occupational Safety and Health legislation for the consideration of the Commission’s Advisory Committee on Health and Safety at Work. The scientific advice from RAC will help the Commission to amend exisiting or add new OELs to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive and better protect workers from cancer-causing chemicals.

OELs set the maximum concentration for such substances in the air at workplaces in the EU.