NIOSH Solicits Comments on New Classification of Carcinogens

NIOSH has published a draft document titled Current Intelligence Bulletin: Update of NIOSH Carcinogen Classification and Target Risk Level Policy for Chemical Hazards in the Workplace and and has published a notice in the Federal Register, soliciting comments.

There have been several criticisms of NIOSH’s current system for classifying carcinogens. The current method is described in 29 CFR 1999 “Identification, Classification and Regulations of Potential Occupational Carcinogens.”

One of the objections is the term “Potential Occupational Carcinogen” which makes it sound as if the dangers of carcinogens such as benzene, ethylene oxide etc. are only ‘Potential Carcinogens’ and not the more definitive ‘Known Carcinogens’.

Another criticism is that unlike other organizations such as the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the current NIOSH carcinogen policy does not classify compounds based on the weight of the scientific evidence. The new proposals would bring NIOSH into line with these other organizations and avoid duplication of effort.

NIOSH will also continue to provide quantitative assessment of cancer risk but will modify the way it estimates its recommended exposure limits (RELs). The RELs will continue to be health-based but unlike before, NIOSH will no longer ‘specifically consider technical 10 achievability (i.e., ability to control exposures) in establishing RELs.‘ Instead, the RELs include a note saying whether existing controls are available or effective, and suggest alternative methods to reduce worker exposure.

Comments must be submitted to NIOSH by February 13, 2014.