June 19, 2019: A day-long workshop to inform delegates of looming regulations on exposure to lead at work in Europe was held on the eve of the ILA’s annual lead consortium, Pb 2019, in Madrid on June 19.
The Lead Occupational Exposure Management Workshop also heard presentations from ILA members whose measures at work have already led to massive reductions in the blood lead levels of workers in their plants.
Steve Binks, regulatory affairs director at the ILA, said the exact Binding Occupational Exposure Limit Value had not yet been decided by the European Chemical Agency, which is instructed by the European Commission to prepare an opinion. The current legal level is 70 μg/dL.
Telling members they should expect the ECHA to take a ‘precautionary’ view, he said the ‘best case’ would be a 20μg/dL blood lead level – the target set by the ILA in 2017 and which as the workshop heard, was already either being achieved or predicted to be achieved by the end of 2020.
He later told Batteries International: “Our objective is to go beyond that because it benefits the health of employees. And with non-member companies, we encourage them to join and we aim to influence them as we work through the supply chain in other parts of the world.”
Binks said the EC would appoint a ‘rapporteur’ who would assess the proposals and provide input to the EC, and while the ILA would not be consulted as such, it would be able to provide some input.
“Everyone who’s using lead or lead compounds will participate in a survey which give the cost of change to the ECHA, including socio-economic factors, and it needs to address the impossible costs as a counter balance to the ECHA proposals,” he said. “They won’t establish a limit that’s unachievable.”
Representatives from EUROBAT, BCI and the ILA separately reported improvements across the industry that would be likely to lead to reaching the blood lead target of less than 20 μg/dL by the end of 2020.
For the ILA, Khareen Singh said that out of 34 sites, 23 now had no employees with a level above 30 μg/dL, and three sites had no employees with levels above 20 μg/dL.
For EUROBAT, Stefan Gielis said the target for members was to limit blood levels to 20 μg/dL by the end of 2025, and by the end of 2019, none above 25 μg/dL. “For the first half of 2018, 8.43% of employees had levels above 25. By the end of the second half, the figure was down to 6.7%,” he said.
From the US, BCI chief executive Kevin Moran said there had been a non-compulsory programme but that different state regulatory authorities, such as the OSHA (Division of Occupational Safety and Health) in California, would be likely to ‘keep moving the target down’. The target was the same as EUROBAT’s, with levels no higher than 25 μg/dL by the end of 2019, while currently it was 30 μg/dL. “
Out of 13 companies, 99.9% of battery plant employees were under the target,” he said. “And 99.8% of secondary smelters were under the target.”
The workshop then heard from ILA member companies who all said that by following guidelines on factors such as hygiene, training, education, safety equipment and filtered air they had seen remarkable reductions in blood lead levels in their workers.
Among the presentations was Javier Elso Galvez, plant manager at Exide Technologies’ San Esteban de Gormaz plant in Spain, who said that since 2006, when 60 workers had levels of more than 25 μg/dL, now not one was above 20, with the average recorded just 14.9 μg/dL.
Perhaps the most striking presentation came from Mark Ashmore, HSQE at HJ Enthoven & Sons (part of Ecobat Technologies) who said that this June the blood level of all employees at the plant had fallen from an average of 8.2 μg/dL at the end of 2018 to an average of 7.9 μg/dL and just 8.6 μg/dL for process workers. Ashmore said that every aspect of possible contamination had been analysed from first principles.
Peter Kelly, industrial hygienist at Canadian mining company Teck Metals, said levels among workers in 1991 averaged 80 μg/dL, and were now down to 27μg/dL. By 2022, he said, there would be no one with levels above 20 μg/dL.
Steve Binks said the ECHA’s review was unlikely to be completed until the end of 2023.