CANCER WARNINGS on many products containing crystalline silica which includes sand have moved closer after the Health & Safety Executive took the first step towards reclassifying the material as a carcinogen.
Materials industry representatives will meet the HSE next week to discuss the implications of the decision and the effect of any legislation which might follow.
But although the HSEs working group on the assessment of toxic chemicals, a group of independent scientists which reports to the advisory committee on toxic substances, has decided that respirable crystalline silica should be upgraded from a possible to a probable carcinogen, it cannot pinpoint the substance as a specific product.
Crystalline silica can be generated as dust through certain production processes. But while a material might contain crystalline silica, it may never be released in a form that can be inhaled.
Concerns over reclassification of the material have been growing since the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, last year upgraded crystalline silica to a definite carcinogen. The US Occupational Safety & Health Administration took a blanket approach, putting hazard warning labels on anything containing more than 0.1% crystalline silica, which included bags of sand (NCE 20 November 1997).
If the same approach were taken by the European Commission, it would mean much stricter regulations for occupational exposure, even for the most straightforward handling operations.
According to Silica & Moulding Sands Association director Colin Selley, there is Europe-wide concern about the financial implications of any changes, and an industry task force has been set up to lobby against this blanket approach.