HCE is used as a degassing agent in aluminium, copper and magnesium foundries. It is on the EC's "black list" of substances considered particularly dangerous to the aquatic environment, and moves to curtail its use were initiated in the early 1990s in Sweden after high dioxin levels in waters around several non-ferrous plants were attributed to HCE.
In 1992, the Paris Commission, which regulates pollution of the North Sea from land-based sources, agreed that HCE should be phased out of most of the aluminium industry by the end of 1994.
A second decision ordered an HCE phase-out from the remainder of the non-ferrous metals sector by the end of 1997, with exceptions allowing its use in production of three specialised magnesium alloys. A further derogation was conceded in 1996 at Germany's request, authorising countries to permit the use of HCE in non-integrated aluminium foundries producing specialised castings, as long as these consume less than 1.5 kilos of HCE per day on average.
In 1995, the European Commission proposed a Directive to introduce similar measures across the EC. The Directive, finally adopted in April, provides for a review of the two derogations by the end of 1998, in line with Paris Commission policy.
Member States must bring the Directive into force by the end of 1997. A survey by the Department of the Environment in 1995 identified only three UK foundries still using the chemical.
Separately, the Commission has adopted a Directive prohibiting marketing to the general public of substances classified as category 1 and 2 carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens where their concentrations exceed limits laid down under EC chemical classification rules. The ban will not apply to medicinal, veterinary or cosmetic products or to artists' paints covered by other EC rules, or to vehicle fuels. Member States must bring the Directive into force by the end of 1997, and apply its provisions from 30 June 1998.2