Metals sector lobbies for exclusions from REACH

Companies and trade bodies representing several branches of the metals sector in the UK have come together to lobby for exclusions of their raw materials and to table other demands for changes under the EU's proposed regulation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH).

The newly formed UK Metals Industry REACH Group (MIRG) brings together for the first time the ferrous and non-ferrous metals sectors, reflecting a similar new cohesiveness at EU level.

Corporate members of MIRG include Anglo American, Corus, Inco Europe, EEF-UK Steel, Johnson Matthey and Rio Tinto. Trade body members include the Aluminium Federation, the British Non-Ferrous Metals Association, the Minor Metals Trade Association, the Nickel Institute and others that speak for metal recyclers and traders.

Such bodies feel that metals are unjustly being lumped together with organic chemicals and being required to undergo similar risk assessments when they pose fewer risks. This, they contend, becomes particularly unfair for products that compete head-to-head on the market, for example, aluminium versus PVC window frames.

MIRG has four chief demands for changes under REACH:

  • An exclusion for naturally occurring metal ores, in line with the exemption under REACH for crude oil as the raw material for organic chemicals. UK legislators are understood to be fairly sympathetic to this argument, although NGOs argue that ore concentrates should not be excluded.

  • An exclusion for secondary raw materials. These are by-products of primary production such as aluminium salt slag which are used for other applications. The industry thinks that continued use of these is likely to require specific authorisation under the new regime and argues that this would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy on top of waste legislation. It argues that this will impede recycling efforts.

    It further points out that the issue of safe handling of wastes for recycling must, in any case, be included in the chemical safety reports that will have to be produced for metals as part of the registration process under REACH.

  • Recognition of alloys as "special preparations" rather than mixtures of metals. The industry fears that it will have to register separately each alloy as well as each metal on its own, which would amount to a considerable burden - aluminium for example exists in thousands of alloys with other metals.

  • Pragmatic application of the substitution principle for authorised substances. UK legislators have made it clear that they consider that efforts must be made to substitute any substance that needs to be authorised as soon as practically feasible. They support time-limited authorisations for this reason.

    The metals sector argues that its process of product development is different from that for organic chemicals and that substitution would be a more complex thing to do.

    On this issue, the industry feels it has won little sympathy so far. NGOs argue that the authorisation process is sufficient to deal with the complexities posed by the sector and that metals should not be granted special favours.

    Negotiations on REACH are now under way in the European Parliament and in governmental working groups under the EU Council of Ministers. To influence these, MIRG representatives met with British MEPs earlier this year. They are currently seeking a meeting with MEPs in Brussels through the European trade organisation Eurometaux.

    People from MIRG have also had several meetings with the UK Environment and Trade and Industry Departments. Indeed, various actors in the metals sector are understood to have recently intensified their lobbying of the UK Government, right up to Downing Street, in advance of the UK EU presidency.

    MIRG's demands are essentially the same as those made by metals bodies in the EU, although Eurometaux is also calling for an extension of the initial three years allowed under REACH for the registration of high-volume substances. It feels the metals sector should be allowed five to seven years.

    Speaking for MIRG, David Harris of the Aluminium Federation said the industry is not fundamentally opposed to REACH, just to several specific aspects of it.

    By way of evidence, he revealed that the international aluminium industry has already formed a consortium and has begun work to prepare a registration dossier for aluminium based on what it currently surmises will be required under REACH once it is adopted.

    Some 22 companies are already involved, all of them primary producers of aluminium, with more expected to join. The work is predicted to take three years and cost around $1.5 million. While between them members of the consortium are said to have some risk assessment data to hand already, according to Dr Harris, "much more is required".

    He said the consortium would be looking primarily at the uses for which the companies sell their products - aluminium and aluminium oxide, not at their further downstream applications.

    One of the effects of REACH has been to force different parts of what one would once have collectively labelled as the "chemical industry" to differentiate and distance themselves. Hence paints and coatings companies are at pains to stress they are customers of the chemical industry, not part of it.

    Similarly, the metals sector says it represents metals and their applications only in their "massive form". This covers metals and alloys that cannot be physically separated. It does not accept responsibility for metallic compounds used for instance, in dyes or flame retardants for plastics, textiles and other products.

    For questions about the risks posed by, for example, chromium-based dyes, Dr Harris has a straightforward answer: "I'm not talking on behalf of metal salts, you should talk to the Chemical Industries Association about those."

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