EU moots curbs on toluene, TCB

Restrictions on the marketing and use of toluene and trichlorobenzene have been proposed by the European Commission1 - nine years after the chemicals were placed on an EU priority list for risk assessment and control.

The draft legislation draws attention to one of the failings of the current EU chemicals regulation system which the proposed REACH regime is intended to alleviate.

Toluene and trichlorobenzene were placed on the second priority list established under the 1993 EU Regulation on risk assessment of older, "existing" substances.

The priority list was published in 1995, and risk assessments of the two chemicals were conducted by Denmark. The work was completed in 2000, and the assessments were passed to the Commission's scientific advisory committee on toxicity for comment. Its opinions were delivered in mid-2001.

It has taken another three years to get draft legislation published. The legislation will take effect 18 months after it is adopted - so the proposed restrictions will bite in the first half of 2006 at the earliest, 11 years after the two chemicals were prioritised.

The restrictions form part of wider risk reduction strategies for the substances drawn up by the Commission in the light of the risk assessments. However, it is impossible as yet to tell where they fit in to the overall picture because the Commission has yet to publish the strategies.

The proposal would ban all uses of trichlorobenzene except as an intermediate, and the use of toluene in adhesives and spray paints on sale to the general public. Where either substance is present in a preparation, the prohibitions would take effect where its concentration exceeds 0.1% by mass.

According to the Commission, the Directive "should pose only minor problems to the industry or trade, as the uses of toluene or TCB are declining in the concerned cases, and companies have already developed alternatives."

In the case of TCB, production and use within the EU have been in decline since the late 1980s. Production in 1988 totalled 14,000 tonnes, but had dropped to around 6,000 tonnes by 1995. About half these volumes were exported.

The major use of TCB in the EU is as an intermediate, but in the 1990s small amounts were thought to be still used in metal working fluids, dye carriers and corrosion inhibitors. According to the risk assessment, it was in these dispersive applications that controls were most needed to reduce toxic risks to aquatic ecosystems, sewage treatment plants and sludge treated soils.

Good data on the usage and exposure to toluene were also in short supply - a gap which, again, REACH should help to fill.

According to the Danish risk assessment, annual toluene consumption in the EU is 2.75 million tonnes, of which 80% is used as a feedstock and much of the remainder as a solvent in process and product applications.

The risk assessment identified a need for measures to limit risks to both the environment and the health of workers and the public. Environmental risks to water, sewage works and soil arise mainly from downstream industries such as polymer, fuel and paint formulation and textile processing, while health risks occur mainly where toluene is used in products such as paints, inks and adhesives.

The draft Directive contains no measures to safeguard the environment or occupational health, which are likely to be addressed through existing EU legislation.

At the end of the 1990s, toluene consumption by the paint and adhesives sectors was running at around 110,000 tonnes per year. The proposed ban on use of the substance in products intended for the public will affect only a small segment of this market, which also includes products used in industry, commerce and the institutional sector.

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