NASF has recently received questions from members on the applicability of the European Union’s (EU) chemical regime to U.S. industry. The brief summary below the EU’s regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemical Substances (REACH) became law in June 2007 and created new obligations to manufacture, import or use new and existing chemicals in the EU. The REACH process includes registration, evaluation, prioritization and authorization of chemicals.
The first part of these chemical management controls is the requirement to register chemicals that are used in the EU. Most, if not all, plated parts are exempt from the registration requirement because they are “articles” as defined by REACH.
Chemicals are then evaluated as part of a hazard classification process to determine if they should be included on the Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC). Some commonly used chemicals in the surface finishing industry that are on the Candidate List include boric acid and chromium trioxide (i.e., chromic acid). A complete list of SVHCs is available here. The EU has a goal to include up to 1,000 substances on the Candidate List by 2020.
Articles Imported into the EU: Letters from Customers
Articles (i.e., plated parts) imported into the EU that contain 0.1 percent or more of a SVHC (by weight of the substance compared to the total weight of the article) must provide immediate information sufficient to ensure safe use of the article to their customers and notify the European Chemical Agency (ECHA). Many companies may have received letters from customers asking if the plated part is in compliance with these REACH requirements.
Although it is unlikely that the weight of a SVHC in a coating would exceed more than 0.1 percent of the weight of the article, platers will either have to obtain appropriate assurances from their suppliers, or have to conduct some testing, to demonstrate to EU customers the amount of SVHCs that may be in the article. Without some type of documentation that the article is not subject to the notification requirement, customers may be forced to request that surface finishes not contain any of the SVHCs.
Getting Authorization for Use
The SVHCs are then subject to a priority setting process to determine if additional controls and restrictions are needed for their continued use. EU member states may recommend that a SVHC should not be used without authorization. The ECHA will then make the final decision and could impose restrictions and management options for the continued use of the SVHC.
For example, on December 21, 2011 the ECHA determined that chromium trioxide and chromic acid should not be used in the EU without authorization. As a result an industry consortium formed to prepare a draft authorization application that includes the specific uses for the SVHC. The application must demonstrate that the risks arising from the uses of chromium trioxide and chromic acid are adequately controlled. In addition, the application must examine if substitutes are available for chromium trioxide and chromic acid. The authorization, if approved, could impose restrictions or limitations on the use of chromium trioxide and chromic acid.
The authorization process can be very expensive, as much as 3.5 million Euros for one substance. The authorization is also use- and user-specific and not substance specific. In other words, each individual surface treatment company that wants to continue using chromic acid in the EU must be part of the authorization process.
What Happens in September 2017?
The sunset date for the continued use of chromium trioxide and chromic acid in the EU without authorization is September 21, 2017. After that date only authorized users may use chromium trioxide and chromic acid in the EU. Parts plated in the U.S. using chromium trioxide or chromic acid after that date may be imported into the EU without restrictions, provided that they do not contain 0.1 percent or more of chromium trioxide or chromic acid.
Even though the REACH requirements may not directly apply to most surface finishing operations in the U.S., they may prompt changes to chemical hazard classifications and chemical management requirements in federal and state regulations applicable in the U.S. In addition, many global plating customers may revise their procurement process to require vendors in their supply chain to comply with some standards from the REACH legislation for consistency across their global supply chains.
If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding the application of the REACH requirements to surface finishing operations, please contact Jeff Hannapel with NASF at firstname.lastname@example.org.