Since a number of boron compounds were listed as "toxic to
reproduction" on the European Union’s (EU)
classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) regulation in
2009, the borates industry has faced an uphill battle to stave
off impending restrictions on the minerals in the
EU’s member states.
A category 1B CLP listing led to the mineral’s
inclusion in an SVHC, or substances of very high concern,
candidate list, from which REACH’s Annex XIV pulls
minerals for inclusion in its authorisation process.
Following consideration of a number of technical arguments
from the industry, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has
recommended – via its 6th prioritisation list
– the inclusion of a number of boron compounds (boric
acid, disodium tetraborate and diboron trioxide) on Annex
Should such a listing proceed late next year, this will only
be the beginning of a drawn out process of authorisation under
the EU’s new regulatory framework, Hakan Kanli,
board member of the European Borates Association (EBA) and
operations, quality and regulatory affairs manager at
Turkey’s Etimine SA, told IM.
The chemicals industry is struggling to deal with the costs
imposed by the EU’s new Registration, Evaluation,
Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation,
which has been increasing in scope since its 2007
Through a process of authorisation, REACH aims to identify
and manage SVHCs, promoting their substitution with less
hazardous alternatives where possible. It obligates companies
producing applicable substances to apply for authorisation per
substance, per use and per legal entity.
The borates industry maintains that the REACH’s
authorisation process is not the ideal way in which to protect
the health of EU citizens. "What we are saying is that as a
risk management option – if you take authorisation as
a tool of it – our opinion is that this is not the
only appropriate way to control the risks," Kanli said.
While Kanli was unwilling to discuss what alternatives the
industry is advocating, he said that proposals were currently
"under discussion". As an industry we have our ways of taking
measures against possible risks," he said, adding: "Within our
existing exposure scenarios, we have already covered all known
uses of borates."
"Without any hesitation, we have declared to our downstream
users that, a possible risk management option (including
authorisation) for borates in the prioritisation list will only
be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate how safely our
substances are used and how adequately the possible risks are
Political dialogue in this regard is ongoing, and there is
an intention to simplify REACH as it applies to critical raw
materials (CRM), including borates.
"This would be very good for industry," Kanli said. "But we
do not know the extent of this yet."
Role of politicians
A major issue for industry players in matters of such a
technical nature is that politicians who make the ultimate
decision do not always have the necessary expertise to make
Despite the long list of applications in which borates are
used – including glass, ceramic and enamel frits and
glazes, detergents and soap, agriculture, pest control and
nuclear power – knowledge and understanding of them
among the non-scientific community is limited.
At a CRM meeting held in April this year, MEP Godelieve
Quisthoudt-Rowohl raised this matter as it relates to the CRM
industry as a whole: "[Politicians] don’t feel
concerned about the issues faced because they
don’t understand the details."
She said it was of paramount importance that industry
communicates its issues in a way that is comprehendible by the
masses, not just the experts.
"We do not know whether this is being done properly," Kanli
said of politicians’ consideration of
REACH-related issues. "This is why we are trying to increase
our contact points with the officials."
But he said that it as yet remains "an unknown place, an
unknown situation in between the industry and the decision
While talks relating to the socio-economic impacts of
authorisation persist and the borates industry continues to
oppose the notion that authorisation is the only way in which
risk management in the European chemicals industry can be
achieved, borates are likely to be listed on
REACH’s Annex XIV by the end of 2016.
From that point, a negotiated 27 month latest application
date (LAD) will begin, followed by an 18 month sunset deadline.
After this period of approximately four years has elapsed, "if
there is no application for that substance for that use, the
use of the substance in the market is banned".
Beyond this, the issue of non-European markets may move to
centre stage: "What is important here to know is that Europe is
always a point of reference for [other markets]" Kanli said.
"They know that within Europe is this chemicals regulation,
"In future we may be facing similar procedures in
non-European countries but [I think these will be] not as
Turkish state-owned Eti Maden IGM is the
world’s largest producer of borates.
In 2014 the company – which produces boron salts at
its four Turkish sites: Kirka, Emet, Bigadic and Bandirma
– held 47% of the world’s 4.3m tonne
boron production capacity.
Eti Maden intends to up this to 50% in 2015 with a 2.2m
tonne capacity and annual sales revenue of $1.29bn. In 2023, it
is targeting a production capacity of 5.5m tonnes and revenues
It functions as a global group with European, US, Russian,
Chinese and Scandinavian operations via its affiliates and
subsidiaries: Etimine SA, Etimine USA Inc., Etiproducts Russia,
Etimine (China) Co. and AB Etiproducts OY, respectively.
Turkey holds almost 73% of the world’s total
boron reserves, at 955.3m tonnes B2O3.
The second and third largest producers are the US and Russia,
at 8% and 6% respectively.