Process-generated carcinogens occur as a by-product of a work-process. These need extra attention because they won’t have labels and there may not be any reference to them in Safety Data Sheets.
Millions of workers in Europe are exposed to process generated carcinogens (PGCs). Despite the high number of exposed workers, relatively little attention has been paid to the issue. The aim of Challenge 4.2 of Roadmap on Carcinogens was to create more awareness on the health risks upon exposure to PGCs to reduce workers’ exposure and finally prevent PGC related cancer.
To achieve the aims of Challenge 4.2, a brief literature search was carried out to collect information on exposure levels, occupations of risk and processes that lead to PGC release. Furthermore, PGC-specific elimination and control strategies were described in the general challenge report. Two factsheets were drafted on processes that generate carcinogens: abrasion and emission from combustion, and placed on the Roadmap website. Two interactive workshops were held with around 45 stakeholders. The first workshop was focused on (implementation of) elimination and control strategies. The second workshop was directed towards ‘awareness on the health risks of PGCs’ and ‘a safe company culture’. Also, the results of an Austrian inspection campaign on silica dust in the construction sector were presented.
Challenge 4.2 conclusions in a nutshell
In order to tackle the issue of PGCs, the first step was to establish a clear definition of what qualifies as a PGC. This was achieved by creating a set of criteria that a substance must meet in order to be considered a PGC. The criteria include: the substance should be accidentally generated during a work activity and result from the degradation of the original material. The definition provided clarity for the rest of the challenge.
Combustion and abrasion
In the effort to identify processes that lead to the release and exposure to PGCs, two main activities were found to be responsible for all identified processes: combustion and abrasion. Combustion refers to the release of fumes and smoke containing PGCs, while abrasive techniques produce abrasive dusts containing PGCs. By categorizing these processes in this way, it became easier to understand and address the sources of PGC exposure.
Although literature was used to determine exposure levels for most PGCs in Europe, there were some PGCs where exposure figures were not available. Furthermore, exposure levels per occupation were not easily accessible, as only general exposure levels for carcinogenic substances were found. To get a better understanding of the scale of the problem, it is necessary to collect more exposure data.
Dust extraction tools are widely available, providing a quick solution to extract harmful particles during material processing. However, many small and medium enterprises do not yet use these tools, leading to inadequate protection against harmful dust exposure.
Inspection campaigns can improve workplace safety, as shown by the Austrian campaign on silica dust. This campaign raised awareness among employers and led to a significant increase in the use of protective measures. However, to ensure accurate measurements, more comparable data should be gathered for limit value comparisons.
During this challenge 4.2 of the Roadmap on Carcinogens, multiple barriers were identified that hamper the reduction of exposure to PGCs, which are described in the general challenge report (link below). Most of these barriers were collected during the workshops. To solve these barriers, stakeholder groups were identified as main responsible to start action.
Raising awareness is key to lowering the work-related disease burden of PGCs. Despite past efforts such as the Roadmap on Carcinogens and successful campaigns on silica dust, awareness for employers and employees remains low. To effect change, campaigns and media attention are vital. Increasing inspections and raising awareness will lead to changes in company culture and encourage the use of technical measures. However, authorities need to incentivize more attention towards PGCs.
Below you can find the original activities, milestones and deliverables that had been envisioned when starting this challenge in 2021.