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Terse exchanges at CRM meeting as mineral industry bemoans regulation cost

By Myles McCormick
Published: Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Industry and the European Commission stood at odds over the impact of the EU’s REACH regulation on registration of chemical and mineral substances, as business representatives complained of the legislation’s high costs and unintended consequences.

Mineral producers challenged the costs imposed upon them by the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals ( REACH) regulation at the Critical Raw Materials (CRM) Alliance meeting at the European Parliament yesterday.

 Inside EC HQ_Teemu Mantynen, Flickr
The Spinelli Building at the European Parliament in Brussels, where the CRM meeting was held in late September (source: Teemu Mantyen).

But the European Commission (EC) dismissed the claims about the burdens of compliance, insisting the administrative impact of legislation remains minimal.

A 2012 Europe-wide consultation process on the most burdensome pieces of legislation for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) put REACH top of the list.

Speaking at the CRM event, Bjorn Hansen, head of unit for at the EU’s environment directorate general, and REACH expert, questioned its findings and methodology.

"If you were a university professor, you wouldn’t call it a study," he said, "If you were a scientist you might say it was biased against REACH."

Hansen said that studies in both the UK and the Netherlands had found that all EU environmental law – of which REACH forms only a small part – combined imposes an increased administrative burden of no more than 1-2% upon companies.

He accepted that the programme imposed costs in terms of data acquisition and substitution, but held that all other areas of it were positive for business.

Delegates from a number of industries disputed Hansen’s claims. Representatives of the magnesium, silicon and minor metals industries, among others, maintained that registration and other financial obligations imposed by REACH were causing significant damage.

Chris Dagger, European chairman of the International Magnesium Association pointed to the unreimbursed costs incurred by the original members of the various industry associations now tasked with regulation. Ines Vanlierde, Eurolieges secretary general, added that compliance costs born by associations at customs checks were significant, while Maria Cox, general manager at the Minor Metals Trade Association, said that many her group’s members were struggling to handle the new administrative burden.

REACH’s stated aim is to protect human health and the environment by shifting risk management in chemicals to industry bodies via a process of registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals.

CRM on a collision course with REACH

In 2010 the EC labelled 14 materials as "critical" on the basis of the dual criteria of economic importance and supply risk. This list was increased to 20 in 2014.

Among its numbers, the list now includes borates, fluorspar, heavy and light rare earths, phosphate rock and natural graphite, all of which are classed as industrial minerals.

The CRM Alliance promotes the importance of these materials in the EU. One of their key objectives is that the EU’s CRM policies should focus on supporting enhanced raw materials supply, instead of promoting substitutes materials.

This arguably puts CRM on a direct collision course with REACH, for which substance substitution is a key element.

Hansen said that it was the intention of the regulation to create a tangible pressure to substitute where substances are not necessary, but in applications where no other option it would not impede their use.

"It helps to reduce the waste of CRM’s in Europe, [by reducing use in non-essential areas] it leaves more for applications that cannot be substituted."

Sean O’Sullivan, regulatory affairs manager for Swiss trading giant Glencore, said that the issue of stigmatisation was very real once substances appear on candidate lists of any kind, leading downstream purchasers to look elsewhere: "What if Boeing discovers a substance on a candidate list, without going through the decision making process? They will ultimately avoid them, regardless," he said.

Borates centre stage

The stigma question is an issue in particular for borates, a mineral with a wide spectrum of uses including glass, ceramic and enamel frits and glazes, detergents and soap, agriculture, pest control and nuclear power.

The majority of these applications are either outside the scope of the legislation or irreplaceable. Nonetheless, its classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) listing as "toxic to reproduction" has caused a degree of substitution by downstream users.

Turkey-based Etimine SA maintains that substitution away from borates has led the utilisation of more harmful substances. In one application – cellulose insulation – the shift was to inorganic ammonium salts, which France subsequently banned outright due to the emission of harmful ammonia gas under conditions of high humidity.

Bayram Ankarali, general manager of Etimine described borates as "the salt of industry", and said that they were "irreplaceable in many uses". As such he said that the pressure to substitute imposed by REACH was both "disproportionate and ineffective".

The third and final deadline for chemical registration under REACH falls on 31 May 2018, but the classification of materials of substances of high concern is likely to extend well beyond this date and the CRM Alliance will continue to hold meetings discussing the place CRMs within the EU legislative framework.



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