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Press Release No. 36 | 7 July 2015
60 Years of Health and Safety at Work: DFG Senate Commission Submits the 51st List of MAK and BAT Values

Presented to the Federal Minister of Labour / A total of 85 changes and additions / Anniversary celebrations in October

The Permanent Senate Commission for the Investigation of Health Hazards of Chemical Compounds in the Work Area of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2015. On 1 July of this anniversary year, the Commission presented the German Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs with its 2015 List of MAK and BAT Values. This list provides the basis for corresponding legislation. It contains 85 changes and additions compared with last year and is available through open access. The Commission is marking the anniversary with a celebration during a workshop at the beginning of October.

Since it was founded on 29 September 1955 by the DFG Senate the Commission’s task has been to assess the substances to which people are exposed in the workplace with regard to the health impacts of these substances and to propose threshold values in line with its role of offering scientific advice as stipulated in the statutes of the DFG. The maximum workplace concentrations (MAK values) that rule out health impairments according to current scientific knowledge were named back in 1953 when preparations were being made for this type of commission. The first of the now 51 lists citing threshold values was published in December 1958. Over the years, with the maximum workplace concentrations came information on which substances may be carcinogenic, damage germ cells or harm a developing foetus during pregnancy, sensitise the skin or respiratory tract, or may be absorbed through the skin in toxic amounts. The list also states the concentration of a substance in the body to which a person can be exposed for a working lifetime without adverse health effects (biological tolerance values (BAT)). In addition, it describes the BLW values (Biologische Leit-Werte) and the BAR values (Biologische Arbeitsstoff-Referenzwerte). For each of the reviewed substances there is detailed scientific documentation that makes the Commission's decision-making processes transparent. The documentation for the changes and additionws is available for discussion until 31 December 2015. New data and scientific comment can also be submitted to the Commission’s secretariat up to that date.

As well as having a harmful effect on the health of adults, some substances can affect fertility and the developing foetus in the womb. In light of this, in 2015 the MAK Commission investigated the substances 4-tert-octylphenol and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), both of which have hormone-like effects on the body. The Commission established a MAK value for 4-tert-octylphenol, which is predominantly used to produce resins for tyre rubber, insulation varnishes or inks, and will observe the effects during pregnancy more closely in the coming year. For the plasticiser DEHP, the Commission has determined that this substance poses no risk to the unborn child if the MAK value is observed. Chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were previously used as an insulating oil in capacitors. The Commission re-examined these substances in 2014, which resulted in classification of the entire group of substances in the same categories of carcinogenicity, germ cell mutagenicity and risk during pregnancy with the same low MAK value. As a result, there is now one MAK value for all chlorinated biphenyls. If this value is observed, carcinogenic effects are not expected and there is at most a very minor contribution to germ cell mutagenicity. However, a risk during pregnancy cannot be ruled out.

Overall, the Senate Commission reduced eight MAK values in the new list, kept eleven of them unchanged after recent review, proposed new MAK values for ten substances and raised the value for five substances, which means that a higher concentration proved not to be harmful. These substances include hydrotreated light petroleum distillates, glycerin and methacrylic acid, which is used to manufacture plastics.

The suspicion that oleic acid caused cancer was dispelled in the carcinogenic substances category. Oleic acid is used to make soaps and metal soaps, to produce tensides and as a component in metal-working fluids. The Commission classified dicyclohexylmethane diisocyanate, which is used for resins or as a raw material in paint and textiles, as a skin sensitising substance. Upon review, the digestive enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin produced sensitising effects on the respiratory tract.

Further Information

For more information about the work of the Senate Commission, a detailed list of all changes and additions, and open access to the MAK Collection of publications, please go to:

  • www.dfg.de/en/mak 
    where the names of relevant contacts at the DFG and the contact details of the Commission's secretariat are also published.