Curbs proposed on solvents, creosote, carcinogens

Restrictions imposed in Germany on the supply of chlorinated solvents and creosote will be extended and harmonised across the EC if the European Commission's latest proposal on the marketing and use of dangerous substances is adopted.1 The proposal would also apply generic restrictions for the first time to substances which have been classified as carcinogens, mutagens or teratogens at EC level.

The proposal is the thirteenth amendment to the 1976 Directive on the marketing and use of dangerous substances and preparations. Materials restricted by previous amendments include leaded paint, organotin anti-fouling paints, polychlorinated biphenyls and the wood preservative pentachlorophenol.

The current amendment is in three sections. One would prohibit the marketing of eight chlorinated solvents at concentrations of more than 0.1% by weight in products sold to the general public. The solvents concerned are chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, 1,1,2-trichloroethane, 1,1,1,2and 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane, pentachloroethane, 1,1-dichloroethylene and methyl chloroform.

The proposed ban would have limited impact in the UK, where the chemicals are believed either not to be sold to the public or sold in at most trivial quantities, with the possible exception of methyl chloroform.

The ban would not apply to medicinal, veterinary or cosmetic products. It would take effect immediately the Directive entered into force for all the solvents except methyl chloroform, for which an extra five years would apply.

Secondly, the proposal would curb the marketing and use of creosote and associated coal distillates for wood treatment and on wood treated with those substances.

Specifically, the Directive would ban the use in wood treatment of those products if they contained the carcinogen benzo-a-pyrene (BaP) at a concentration of more than 0.005% by mass, or water-extractable phenols at a concentration of more than 3% by mass. Wood treated with these materials could not be placed on the market.

However, the draft then goes on to provide a number of derogations. The use of creosote and related compounds would be permitted in industrial timber treatment installations provided that their BaP content was less than 0.05% and that their water-extractable phenol content was less than 3% by mass.

Wood treated in this way could be used only for professional and industrial applications. It could not be used inside buildings, in the manufacture of containers intended for growing purposes or for packaging where it was likely to contaminate food or animal feed, or in playgrounds or other public places where there was a risk of skin contact. Similar restrictions would apply to second-hand wood treated with creosote.

The Health and Safety Executive says that it has been told by UK creosote producers that the proposal is unlikely to cause them difficulties, since the products they supply either conform to the specification laid down or could be made to do so without much trouble.

The third element of the proposal would ban the marketing of substances and preparations containing category 1 or 2 carcinogens, mutagens or teratogens to the general public. Category 1 and 2 substances are those about which there is the least doubt about their health effects.

These restrictions would apply only once substances had been classified officially as carcinogens, mutagens or teratogens at EC level, and placed on Annex I of the 1967 Directive on classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. The ban would not apply to such substances or preparations containing them at concentrations less than those specified in that annex or, where it does not contain such a figure, at a concentration specified in the 1988 Directive on dangerous preparations.

It is not clear how many substances will be caught by this proposal because Annex I of the 1967 Directive has just been revised but is not yet available. The ban would not apply to medicinal, veterinary or cosmetic products, for which there are other EC controls, or to motor fuels.

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