Mineral producers challenged the costs imposed upon them by
the European Union’s (EU) Registration,
Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
regulation at the Critical Raw Materials (CRM) Alliance meeting
at the European Parliament in Brussels in September.
But the European Commission (EC) dismissed claims about the
burdens of compliance, insisting the administrative impact of
the 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.
But, 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% of
corporate expenditure upon companies.
He accepted that the programme imposed costs in terms of
data acquisition and substitution, but held that all other
areas 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,
Euroalliages 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 of her group’s members
were struggling to handle the new administrative
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
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 substitute
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 tangible pressure to substitute where substances are not
necessary, but in applications where no other option were
available it would not impede their use.
"It helps to reduce the waste of CRMs 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
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 led to a degree of substitution by
Turkey-based Etimine SA maintains that substitution away
from borates has led to the utilisation of more harmful
substances (see p40). 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
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