Are the wheels of European chemical policy finally starting to turn again?

News 2017 / February

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Are the wheels of European chemical policy finally starting to turn again?

As an environmentally aware person working with chemical policy it is not every day you get to see positive signs. Industry lobbyists are hindering progressive legislation, the policy and implementation processes are too slow and the positive effects of what we do are sometimes not seen until decades into the future.

The last few years especially have been riddled with setbacks rather than progress: few new listings on the REACH candidate and authorisation lists, the introduction of risk management option analysis (RMOA) and fierce discussions about the authorisation system.

So, comparing the slow-moving progress of recent years with the latest developments in European chemical policy is a welcoming change, as ECHA recently announced that two well-known hazardous chemicals will both be bumped up a notch in the legal restriction system.

We’re talking about Bisphenol A – an 8 million metric ton chemical which has been put on the Candidate List, and DEHP – the most common member of the chemical class phthalates and a high-volume chemical as well, which is likely to be restricted in imported articles in the near future.

But hold off on the champagne for a while, because in the case of Bisphenol A it is far from banned right now. Nevertheless, putting this widely used chemical on the REACH Candidate List is a major milestone. It covers all applications – not just certain uses such as baby bottles.

From now on every European is entitled to know if BPA is included in plastics, in dental sealants or cash receipts, for example, within 45 days of posing the question. Apps like ToxFox will hopefully play an important role in getting more and more of us consumers to ask questions about hazardous content in products. And this so-called right-to-know is only the very first step that follows the identification of BPA as a substance of concern. Imagine the retailers – do they really want to sell products that contain such a chemical?

The second chemical in question, DEHP, is already banned in Europe and companies need to apply for authorisation before they can use it. Back in 2014 a coalition of companies was granted such authorisation for four years, which was of course a major disappointment. And there are worrying signs that the decrease in volume supplied to Europe is accompanied by an increase in non-EU countries and therefore the problem has not been solved, but simply shifted elsewhere.

 

DEHP usage in the EU and the world

 

DEHP has been used for more than 50 years in almost all soft/flexible PVC applications due to its recognised plasticising efficiency, fusion rate and viscosity. It is often used as the standard for PVC plasticisers due to being in the mid-range of plasticiser properties, at an attractive price.

Largely due to regulatory pressures, the use of DEHP in the EU, North America and Northeast Asia has been declining, but elsewhere the plasticiser still holds a dominant market share, e.g. it represents 60 per cent of all plasticisers used in China and its use is forecast to grow.

But now we see a light at the end of the tunnel. This new restriction proposal for four phthalates, including DEHP, is very promising. If this restriction is agreed, approximately one year from now, it will ban the use of DEHP in a wide range of products after a transition period of three years – and it will not only apply to European producers, but all importers too. This restriction combined with the soon-to-expire authorisation gives rise to the hope, that from 2020 onwards the presence of DEHP in products will decrease dramatically.

There is still some way to go before we can celebrate the end of these two toxins, but I’m happy that we are finally seeing some movements. We need actions, not words.

 

Sonja Haider

Sonja Haider
Senior Business and Investors Advisor