Cobalt Occupational Exposure Limits – How the Next Steps of the Legislative OEL Process are Key for the Future of the EU’s Green Transition
By Sarah Schneider, Senior Policy and Communications Officer, Cobalt Institute
Cobalt is essential for Europe’s green deal, circular economy, and strategic autonomy. To meet the given objectives and to ensure the growth of the cobalt industry, proportionate EU-wide cobalt occupational exposure limit (OEL) values, which are currently determined by the European Commission, are needed.
The Cobalt Institute has always supported the introduction of cobalt occupational exposure limit values in the EU, however these values need to protect workers and let industry operate in Europe. Based on its recently conducted scientific and socio-economic studies, the Cobalt Institute recommends a 20 µg Co/m3 (inhalable) and 5 µg Co/m3 (respirable) Occupational Exposure Limits for cobalt and cobalt compounds. These two recommended values protect workers and allow for industry to continue operating in Europe. In addition, these values are progressive and are considered as still difficult to achieve for certain industries.
In the latest stage of the OEL process, the Working Party on Chemicals and Advisory Committee on Health and Safety at Work (ACSH) recommended limit values of 10 µg Co/m3 (inhalable) and 2.5 µg Co/m3 (respirable) after six years’ transition at 20 µg Co/m3 (inhalable) and 4 µg Co/m3 (respirable). The ACSH additionally recommends that, at the latest 13 years after entry into force of the Directive, the Commission should have assessed the feasibility of reducing the respirable OEL further to a level corresponding to a residual risk of 4:10000.
The given recommendation 10 µg Co/m3 by the Advisory Committee for Safety and Health at Work (ACSH) could have a negative impact on industry investment and jeopardize the cobalt industry’s future in Europe. According to the recent assessment from eftec (Economics for the Environment Consultancy), sponsored by industry, introducing a 10 µg Co/m3 OEL (without transition period) would result in the closure of 71% of affected battery precursor manufacturers, 32% of affected cobalt recycling and 21% of affected metallurgical alloy manufacturing.
On top of these concerns, there is currently no socio-economic data to understand the implications of the WPC/ACSH transition period recommendation. To support decision-makers, the Cobalt Institute is generating this data at a pace which will be ready in early 2024.
Now that the ACSH has finalized their recommendation for cobalt OEL values, the Commission is drafting the official legislation, taking the ACSH recommendation into consideration. The Cobalt Institute is asking the political decision-makers to ensure that the Cobalt Institute’s future data on the transition period is included in the process.
An occupational exposure limit value is the right measure to address any risks arising from cobalt exposure in the workplace. To ensure a green transition, circular economy, and strategic autonomy for Europe, OELs of 20 µg Co/m3 (inhalable) and 4 µg Co/m3 (respirable) are optimal, as these values will protect workers in the workplace and let the cobalt industry grow in Europe.
All data from the Cobalt Institute including the socio-economic impact assessment can be found here.
 OEL socioeconomic impact assessment conducted by eftec, commissioned by the Cobalt Institute