Reminder: The substances included in Annex XIV of REACH are subject to authorization so that their use is forbidden on the European market from a given date called “sunset date”.
Many companies criticize ECHA’s recommendation for prioritization
The political context
Following the 7th draft recommendation for prioritization of substances for a possible Annex XIV inclusion, ECHA called upon manufacturers in November 2015 to provide information on the uses and condition of use of the 11 SVHCs (Substances of Very High Concern) selected. This information focused on the possible economic, social, health and environmental impacts of these substances’ inclusion to Annex XIV, in order to better assess the consequences that such an inclusion could have on the industry.
The results of this study were presented at the last meeting of Competent Authorities for REACH and CLP held in Caracal. More than half of the information submissions provided by the manufacturers concern only two substances from the 11 intended to be added to Annex XIV: the anhydrides HHPA and MHHPA.
“Absence” of alternatives
The reactions about anhydrides achieved a broad majority for there is no “technically and economically viable” alternative for all the uses listed for these substances. And even if substitution was possible, it would lead to many difficult costs to bear. It would give a competitive edge to companies outside the EU that “would not have to bear costs of authorization”.
In addition, there is a risk with substitution as no study has been conducted on the long-term consequences of these alternatives on human health and environment, as opposed to anhydrides where the risks are already well documented.
What are HHPA and MHHPA?
HHPA and MHHPA are anhydrides which are mainly used as hardeners for isolating materials made out of epoxy resin. Epoxy resins are massively used in the isolation of high voltage equipment in electrical transmission and distribution.
These two acid anhydrides are respiratory sensitizers which can cause symptoms like coughing, sneezing, lacrimation, chest tightness, rhonchi, breathing difficulty, asthma crisis which can last up to several hours after being exposed to the substance without medical assistance.
It is strongly advised to wear a mask in all the cases where the manipulation of these substances could cause employee exposure due to the long-lasting impact on the body.
Please note: No case of consumer exposure to HHPA or MHHPA has been recorded yet.
The economic consequences of a potential inclusion to Annex XIV are described in the AJIT report
According to a report from the AJIT (Anhydrides Joint Industry Taskforce), a recent group formed by companies like ABB, Andritz, Huntsman, Hexion, Elantas, Siemens and Schneider, anhydrides represent €6,6 billion in the European economy as well as 75,000 jobs.
The companies surveyed by the AJIT answer that in the case where these substances became unavailable following their inclusion to Annex XIV:
- 54% would relocate outside Europe
- 24% would close down
- 15% would opt for substitution
- 3% would switch to an alternative process without epoxy
Hence, relocation seems to be the more likely solution for the surveyed companies in case of “non-affordability” of these substances, because of the cost associated to the Authorization process.
The favorite regulatory alternatives of the industry
Manufacturers are pressuring ECHA to reconsider its decision to include HHPA and MHHPA to the Annex XIV of REACH. They also request that more extensive analysis is made depending on the different uses of the substances. It would help apprehend the risks linked to these SVHCs and react accurately and proportionally.
Three solutions are mainly considered:
1. Authorization exemption for the particular use of epoxy resins
Most actors reacting to ECHA’s decision have suggested that the uses of HPPA and HPPA in isolating materials made out of epoxy resin be exempted from authorization.
2. Inclusion to the Annex XVII of REACH (Restrictions)
The inclusion of these two substances in Annex XVII would permit the use to be only restricted to some use scenario, instead of being completely forbidden. Restriction would affect the domestic products and the imports. The companies consider this solution as a more effective instrument to address the potential concerns that the concentration of airborne anhydrides may cause to workers.
3. Set OELs for these substances
Companies also prefer setting OELs (Occupational Exposure Levels) at the European level as an alternative to Authorization. Two are already set at national level in Finland (10 µg/m3 for an average exposure of value of 8 hours) and Spain (5 µg/m3 for an average exposure of value of 15 minutes). A discussion about setting an OEL for an average exposure of value of 8 hours is being discussed in the Netherlands.
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