Disagreement on the exposure limit for cobalt compounds

March 3, 2023

In December, the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) of theEuropean Chemical Agency (ECHA ) issued a new proposal on Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs), "under the Carcinogens and Mutagens and Reprotoxics Directive (2004/37/EC) and the Chemical Agents Directive (98/24/EC) on the protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to substances in the workplace".

The notice concerns cobalt compounds (EC number 231-158-0; CAS number 7440-48-4) and its inorganic compounds. This new proposal has generated a lot of interest from the industry, finding it very low compared to what was expected. 

The proposed OELs for cobalt

The committee's proposed value is 1 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³) over 8 hours for the inhalable fraction of cobalt and 0.5 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m³) for the respirable fraction of the compound.

For the indicative biological value (IBV), the committee proposes:

  • For women: 2 micrograms of cobalt per liter of urine (µg Co/L)
  • For men: 0.7 micrograms of cobalt per liter of urine (µg Co/L)

The REB also suggests the use of "skin sensitization" and "respiratory sensitization" ratings.

Understanding the cobalt situation

Previously, there was talk of a REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) restriction for cobalt salts. In May 2022, the European Commission (EC) made a decision to focus on exposure limits rather than restricting cobalt salts. This decision was supported by industry. However, the proposal issued by the ERC appears to be of concern to industry.

Cobalt salts are included in the REACH candidate list because of their carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic properties. They are used in the manufacture of chemicals, materials (alloys - chromium, nickel aluminium, copper, tungsten -, electrodes for lithium batteries, fertilizers, pigments, etc.), catalysts, batteries and biogas. 

Cobalt is therefore an important metal for the development of technologies in line with green energy transition plans (e.g. electric vehicle batteries) and the European Union (EU) strategy. According to the industry, the proposed ELVs for cobalt by the ERC are "disproportionately low" and will be unfavorable for the EU. 

The proposal was focused on all cobalt compounds and its inorganic compounds rather than cobalt salts, since workers are mostly exposed to mixtures of cobalt compounds. It is therefore difficult to determine the different exposure scenarios.

Cobalt classification

According to the CLP (Classification, Labelling, Packaging) regulation n°1272/2008 relating to the classification, labelling and packaging of chemical substances and mixtures, cobalt and its compounds are classified :

  • Carcinogenic 1B
  • Mutagen 2
  • Toxic for reproduction 1B
  • Respiratory and skin sensitizer

Cobalt compounds are as follows: 

  • Cobalt oxide
  • Cobalt sulfide
  • Cobalt dichloride 
  • Cobalt Sulfate
  • Cobalt Nitrate
  • Cobalt carbonate

To be compliant on the use of cobalt

Anticipate the regulatory changes concerning cobalt thanks to MAT Factory software to remain in compliance with your new obligations. 

EcoMundo also offers the SDS Factory software for the edition and management of your SDS, taking into account section 8.1 on control parameters, to mention the TLVs, if they exist, as well as the classification rules under the CLP regulation.

The SAFE Factory software is an essential tool to control the professional risks related to your activity. 


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