Borates industry vigilant as REACH trundles forward

By Myles McCormick
Published: Saturday, 26 September 2015

The EU’s REACH regulation has come under fire from a number of mineral producers for which Europe is an important market. Myles McCormick, Reporter, spoke to Hakan Kanli, operations, quality and regulatory affairs manager at Etimine SA, the European subsidiary of Turkish borates miner, Eti Maden, about where the borates industry stands in relation to the EU regulation and what the future holds.

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 XIV. 

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 introduction.

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 controlled."

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 informed policies.

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 makers."

Hazy outlook

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, REACH" 

"In future we may be facing similar procedures in non-European countries but [I think these will be] not as restrictive."

Eti Maden

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 of $2.5bn.

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.