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  • Exposure limits for five additional cancer-causing substances 
  • No transition period for Formaldehyde, with exception of health and funeral sectors 
  • Possible extension to hazardous drugs, including cytotoxic drugs 

A deal updating EU rules to protect workers from exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances was struck on Tuesday by Employment MEPs and the Romanian Presidency of the Council.

The agreed text adds exposure limit values for five carcinogenic chemical agents - cadmium, beryllium, arsenic acid, formaldehyde and 4,4'-Methylene-bis(2-chloroaniline)(MOCA) - to the existing list of harmful substances for European workers’ health.

The third revision of the 2004 directive intends to further lower the risk for workers of getting cancer, which is the primary cause of work-related deaths in the EU.

Transition periods

The Parliament and Council negotiators found a compromise on the following transition periods:

  • 8 years for cadmium,
  • 7 years for beryllium and
  • 4 years for arsenic acid.

For Formaldehyde, Employment Committee MEPs pushed to exclude a transition period for all sectors. However, in view of the specific situation of the health and the funeral sector, a transition period of 5 years was agreed on by co-legislators for these two sectors.

Cadmium and cytotoxic drugs: possible further amendments

The European Commission shall assess within 3 years the option of amending the Directive to include further provisions on cadmium on a combination of an airborne occupational exposure limit with a biological limit value for cadmium and its inorganic compounds. During the transition period, the limit value should be measured either in inhalable or respirable fractions, depending on whether or not member states set up a biomonitoring system on the date of the entry into force of this directive.

In addition, the Commission will, upon Parliament’s request, assess no later than the end of the second quarter of 2020 the option of whether to amend Directive 2004/37/EC to include hazardous drugs, including cytotoxic drugs, or to propose a more appropriate instrument to ensure the occupational safety of workers from exposure to such drugs.


Laura Agea (EFDD, IT), rapporteur, said: This agreement fills me with pride, as it will help to improve the long-term working conditions of more than a million workers in the EU, avoiding more than 22,000 cases of occupational disease each year. Our commitment has brought concrete results for the good of Europeans.”

Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SE), Employment Committee Chair and rapporteur for the first batch of substances, added: “Today’s agreement is a success for workers and another testament to Parliament’s ability to be ambitious and improve the protection of workers. Let’s hope we can continue in this spirit in the next mandate.”

Claude Rolin (EPP, BE), Employment Committee Vice-Chair and rapporteur for the second batch of substances, added: “This is a step forward in favour of a better protection of workers. This opens the way for a permanent revision and an enhanced control of hazardous substances.”

Next steps

The informally agreed text will have to be endorsed by the Council's Permanent Representatives Committee and confirmed by the Parliament’s Employment Committee and the plenary.


This is the third revision (“batch”) of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. The second batch, which added diesel fumes to the list of harmful substances, was adopted by the plenary last December.

The recent updates aim at further lowering the risk for European workers of getting cancer, which is the primary cause of work-related deaths in the EU. The amended directive now includes exposure limits for 27 cancer-causing chemicals.