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EU REACH Update, Part 1

06.12.2013 // Mike Kirschner // Supply Chain

It’s time once again for the annual update on REACH (Read the 2012 update). Dynamic as ever, REACH is progressing in its mission to regulate the majority of uses of chemical substances throughout the European Union. Here are some statistics and facts:

  • There are currently 138 substances on the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) candidate list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs). Ten more were proposed earlier this year and some or all of these are expected to be added to the candidate list by the end of June.
  • The European Commission has stated that their goal is for all SVHCs to be identified and listed by the end of 2020. They have identified 440 substances to be reviewed during that time. This means we should expect more extensive lists of proposed SVHCs in the coming years.
  • The results of the 2012 REACH Review were finally published. The determination of the European Commission is that REACH is working quite well. Only minor issues of overlap and contention with other regulations like RoHS were identified.
  • Eight more substances were added to Annex XIV, the list of Authorized Substances, on April 18 (effective April 21), for a total of 22 substances. Ten more were recommended by ECHA to the European Commission for addition to Annex XIV on January 17; a total of 16 proposed substances have not yet been added to the list (the European Commission must promulgate a regulation to update Annex XIV before substances are actually added to it).
  • The Community Rolling Action Plan was updated with an additional 62 substances; there are currently 151 substances undergoing evaluation. The evaluations of 36 substances, including silicon dioxide, begun in 2012 were – in theory – completed by Feb. 28, 2013, however no final decisions have been published on the ECHA website.
  • ECHA is now publishing application information for candidate list SVHCs in articles, pulling from registration data.

The Implications of SVHC List Expansion

The latest list of proposed SVHCs includes, among others, one phthalate (dipentyl phthalate, DPP), cadmium and cadmium oxide, and four UV absorbers for plastics (UV-320, UV-327, UV-328, and UV-350). While the inclusion of cadmium and cadmium oxide will likely be irrelevant to the electronics industry in the EU since RoHS restricts them already, the other two items have interesting implications:

  1. There are a growing number of phthalates in the candidate list, so if you or your suppliers are simply replacing these identified phthalates with others, you may only be delaying the inevitable decision to move away from phthalates altogether, and all that entails and implies. This is known as a "regrettable substitution", since you will simply have to redo the non-recurring engineering necessary to replace the phthalate over and over.
  2. When you ask for material composition on plastic resins, how detailed is it? Do you get details on the specific UV absorbers used? On the specific colorants? Plasticizers? Mold release agents? Other constituents that will remain in the final produce, once cured? Germany, the source of the proposals to add these UV absorbers to the candidate list, appears to have decided to focus on this class of substances for this proposal period; who knows what they will focus on next? Again – as discussed in my previous article, having full awareness of the substances that comprise your product is quickly becoming a basic requirement. Polymers contain all sorts of stabilizers and other substances to give them particular physical/thermal/visual/etc. properties. As the range of substances being regulated expands, so must your awareness of the substances in materials you use that, historically, manufacturers have been less willing to provide, such as plastic resins, adhesives, lubricants and so on.

We can expect the SVHC list to grow to nearly 600 substances (if not more) by 2020, the approach of simply asking your suppliers whether they use a particular substance once it appears on the SVHC list will not prepare you for anything but disclosure requirements. The fate of candidate list SVHCs is intended to be their removal from commerce in the European Union. While knowing they are in your product is clearly important, it’s not the only step you need to take.

The REACH 2012 Review to Avoid Overlaps

REACH Article 138 requires the European Commission to undertake a number of reviews. Clause 6 required a review of whether or not to amend the scope of the regulation to avoid overlaps with other relevant "Community provisions" including, of interest to the Electronics industry, RoHS, ELV, Packaging and Battery directives.

The Commission found that "REACH functions well and delivers on all objectives that at present can be assessed," and, in fact, is having an impact.

  • The growing amount and quality of information on chemicals due to REACH is resulting in changes in classification of substances;
  • The increase in information in the supply chain is resulting in more appropriate risk management measures; and
  • Candidate listing of SVHCs has led to increased moves toward the substitution of those substances

This last point is not only referring to the Authorization process, which has yet to actually sunset any substances and require their replacement (except in authorized applications in specific supply chains), but to the blacklist effect of the Candidate list of SVHCs. Our observation has been that once a substance is added to the list, its days are effectively numbered, regardless of whether it ever is placed into Annex XIV (the List of Substances Subject to Authorization).

Minor overlaps with RoHS, specifically, were identified. For instance,

  • Entry 23 of Annex XVII (Restrictions) on Cadmium, allows its use in electrical contacts in any sector of use where that is necessary to ensure the reliability required of the apparatus on which they are installed.
  • RoHS exemption 8(b) (Annex III) simply exempts Cadmium and its compounds in electrical contacts.

The Review explains that the RoHS exemption is broader since it is unconditional, and concludes that "the differences in the conditions of application of the two exemptions may lead to uncertainty for operators concerned as to their obligations."

Another, perhaps more interesting, potential overlap identified would be with the Authorization process under REACH covering, for instance, an application that has an exemption under RoHS. They identify a "concern that operators would need to go through two separate and independent procedures in order to be able to continue to use the substance, i.e. one under REACH authorization, and the other for the exemption to apply under the sectoral legislation". The determination was made that as cases arise they would be addressed individually.

To Be Continued

That’s all the space I have for this month’s update. I will return to REACH in an upcoming article to continue coverage of this regulation and its impact on the electronics industry.

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Featured Contributor:
Mike Kirschner

Mike Kirschner

Mike Kirschner is a product environmental compliance and performance expert who provides advice and expertise to manufacturers in a variety of industries. His primary areas of focus include EU RoHS, the impact of EU's REACH regulation on article manufacturers, California’s Safer Consumer Products regulation, and performance standards like IEEE-1680.x for electronics. Mike helps manufacturers define, implement and troubleshoot internal management systems that result in compliant products, and assesses and monitors environmental regulations around the world on their behalf. ( More... )

He contributed two chapters to the Governance, Risk, and Compliance Handbook, published by Wiley in 2008, and is featured in the critically acclaimed book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. In 2009 he was appointed to the California EPA Department of Toxic Substance Control's Green Ribbon Science Panel. Prior to joining ENVIRON, Mike founded product lifecycle and environmental consultancy Design Chain Associates, LLC (DCA), where he served as president and managing partner. Before founding DCA in 2001, Mike spent 20 years in engineering and engineering management roles within the electronics industry with manufacturers including Intel and Compaq. He holds a BS in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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