Directive Aims to Protect Workers From Chromium

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Bureau of National Affairs

Summary Statement

This article describes a European Union directive fighting dermatitis by reducing chromium in cement.

Reproduced with permission from Occupational Safety & Health reporter, Vol. 33, No. 15, page 358 (April 10, 2003). Copyright 2003 by the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. 1-800-372-1033

An EU directive approved by the European Parliament March 27 aims to eliminate a hazard faced by millions of construction workers when they handle cement products.

The directive will require the cement industry to neutralize chromium impurities in cement that cause a disabling form of dermatitis.

The new legislation, due to be signed into law by EU ministers in the coming weeks, is modeled on rules imposed by Scandinavian countries since the 1980s. Germany introduced national rules in 2000.

Under the EU directive, it will be illegal to sell cement and cement products containing more than two parts per million of hexavalent chromium. Above that limit, producers will have to treat cement with ferrous sulphate, a substance available as a waste by-product from the chemical industry. The process reduces chromium VI to a harmless form.

A report from the Parliament's Environment Committee recalled that when chromium VI-containing cement was used in the construction of a rail tunnel between England and France, hundreds of workers among a workforce of 5,900 were diagnosed with dermatitis. By comparison, there were only two cases among the 3,000 workers who operated under the protection of Scandinavian law when they constructed the Great Belt Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden.

Author of the report, Belgian deputy Paul Lannoye said the legislation would address a "significant" occupational health problem that forces more than a thousand workers with varying degrees of incapacity out of the construction industry each year. Annual compensation costs exceed $100 million across the EU.

Lannoye added that the law will apply to EU cement production of 200 million metric tons a year, except where cement that is used in enclosed, automated processes where there is no risk to workers of skin contact.

The legislation forms part of a group of EU prohibitions on dangerous substances.

The original draft of the directive, published as European Commission document COM [2002] 459, is available on the Internet at