EU Prioritizes First Set of Chemicals for Ban Under Strict New REACH Law


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REACH, the European Directive for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, set out guidelines for the types of chemicals which should be progressively banned:

  • CMRs: Carcinogens, Mutagens or Reproductive Toxins
  • PBTs: Persistant, Bioaccumulative and Toxic chemicals
  • vPvBs: chemicals which are very persistant and very bioaccumulative.

Now the first seven chemicals to suffer the wrath of REACH are on the table. So which substances could be disappearing from laundy detergents, insulating foams and other everyday materials?All chemicals sold on the European market have been registered and are being set on track for evaluation to ensure sufficient data is available to ensure chemicals are adequately controlled. Now, in parallel, the European Chemicals Agency has taken the first steps towards the "Authorization" aspect, the "A" in REACH.

If a chemical is added to the list requiring authorization, it can be manufactured and sold only for uses where the supplier has proven either that the social benefits of the chemical outweigh the risks, or that the chemical can be adequately controlled so the risks for workers and consumers are not significant. The battle is on for manufacturers of the seven chemicals prioritized for the first list.

Musk Xylene:
This fragrance enhancer is found in detergents, fabric conditioners and fabric softeners. It is estimated that only the relatively small quantity of 25 tons per year is used. But musk xylene is classified as very persistant and very bioaccumulative, so a little bit builds up continuously to potentially dangerous levels.

4,4`-diaminodiphenylmethane - MDA
MDA is carcinogenic. It's use as a hardening agent in epoxy resins and adhesives creates concerns about worker exposure. Responsible industrial users of MDA take precautions to ensure workers are not put at risk, but the committee recommending prioritization of MDA points out that no safe level of MDA can be established.

Short Chained Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs)
SCCPs are used as flame retardants and plasticizers, mainly in high performance rubber, sealants, paints or textile coatings. A ban on SCCPs could create real challenges for industry, because there are no substitutes known for many uses. But lack of a better alternative carries no weight in REACH. Industry will have to prove that the social benefits outweigh the costs of pollution by SCCPs, a difficult task for these persistant, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds.

Hexabromocyclododecane - HBCDD
HBCDD is already a less dangerous alternative, replacing the PDBEs already banned in the EU. The battlefield is set for HBCDD, with challengers already arguing that HBCDD is less persistant and less toxic than suggested by authorities, and that steep increases in emissions were related to one plant which is now closed. The regulators will push their case that although HBCDD is safely isolated in materials like expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation, the large amounts used in buildings will leave a legacy of waste to be dealt with at demolition or restoration.

Three Phthalates
Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), Benzylbutylphthalate (BBP), and Dibutylphthalate (DBP) are all plasticizers considered toxic for reproduction. Deciding the correct regulatory pathway for these chemicals is complicated by the potential for additivity: exposure to one phthalate at a level considered safe may not be safe in the case of simultaneous exposure to one or more of the other phthalates.

Prioritization for authorization is only a first step. But with this step, REACH is in full swing. The way that industry sells, and consumers use, chemicals has entered a new era focused on sustainable use of the miracle materials of modern life.

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Tags: Chemicals | Corporate Responsibility | Pollution