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
|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
"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
CRM on a collision course
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
Among its numbers, the list now includes
heavy and light rare earths,
rock and natural
graphite, all of which are classed as industrial
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
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
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
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
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
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.