Background: Tier 1 exposure tools recommended for use under REACH are designed to easily identify situations that may pose a risk to health through conservative exposure predictions. However, no comprehensive evaluation of the performance of the lower tier tools has previously been carried out. The ETEAM project aimed to evaluate several lower tier exposure tools (ECETOC TRA, MEASE, and EMKG-EXPO-TOOL) as well as one higher tier tool (STOFFENMANAGER®). This paper describes the results of the external validation of tool estimates using measurement data.
Methods: Measurement data were collected from a range of providers, both in Europe and United States, together with contextual information. Individual measurement and aggregated measurement data were obtained. The contextual information was coded into the tools to obtain exposure estimates. Results were expressed as percentage of measurements exceeding the tool estimates and presented by exposure category (non-volatile liquid, volatile liquid, metal abrasion, metal processing, and powder handling). We also explored tool performance for different process activities as well as different scenario conditions and exposure levels.
Results: In total, results from nearly 4000 measurements were obtained, with the majority for the use of volatile liquids and powder handling. The comparisons of measurement results with tool estimates suggest that the tools are generally conservative. However, the tools were more conservative when estimating exposure from powder handling compared to volatile liquids and other exposure categories. In addition, results suggested that tool performance varies between process activities and scenario conditions. For example, tools were less conservative when estimating exposure during activities involving tabletting, compression, extrusion, pelletisation, granulation (common process activity PROC14) and transfer of substance or mixture (charging and discharging) at non-dedicated facilities (PROC8a; powder handling only). With the exception of STOFFENMANAGER® (for estimating exposure during powder handling), the tools were less conservative for scenarios with lower estimated exposure levels.
Conclusions: This is the most comprehensive evaluation of the performance of REACH exposure tools carried out to date. The results show that, although generally conservative, the tools may not always achieve the performance specified in the REACH guidance, i.e. using the 75th or 90th percentile of the exposure distribution for the risk characterisation. Ongoing development, adjustment, and recalibration of the tools with new measurement data are essential to ensure adequate characterisation and control of worker exposure to hazardous substances.