Tighter EU regulations on lead if Swedish proposal adopted

A public consultation on whether to identify lead as a ‘substance of very high concern’ will end on April 23, when the European Chemicals Agency will decide whether to add the metal to the EU’s REACH candidate list.

The decision will almost certainly be to add it to the list, invoking a raft of regulations that are bound to have an impact on the lead battery industry, which makes up 85% of the EU’s lead use.

REACH — Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals – is the legislation implemented in 2007 by the European Chemicals Agency under the EU.

It orders products that meet certain criteria to be added to a ‘candidate list’, which then necessitates informing downstream users of the presence of that particular substance within a product and leads to the possibility of it being included on the ‘authorization list’, which entails more far-reaching regulations, including finding an alternative.

In February, Sweden’s Chemical Agency proposed that lead should be classified as a SVHC (substance of very high concern) and a public consultation including parties such as member states and organizations like Eurobat and the ILA was launched.

But as Steve Binks, director of regulatory affairs at the International Lead Association, says, because lead meets certain REACH criteria — it already has a harmonized classification as a reproductive toxicant — parties involved in the public consultation will have no option but to vote for its inclusion on the candidate list.

Once on the candidate list, a further process is gone through to determine whether the product must then be added to an ‘authorization list’, which means permission must then be sought from the European Chemicals Agency prior to its sale or even use.

“After that, the commission and member states will have another chance to question whether authorization is proportionate, but at this stage there is no discretion,” Binks told BESB.

“The implications are that in the early 2020s, if the process progresses at speed then all users of lead in Europe will have to have authorization to continue.

“They should grant an exemption from authorization because there’s already legislation in the End-of-Life Directive that exempts lead batteries. Every three to five years this has to be reviewed by the car industry to make the point that there are no alternatives.

“So even though it’s already regulated, but we would still have to justify to the regulator that there is no alternative available and there are socio-economic benefits to using lead batteries.”

In fact the ruling would apply to all major battery chemistries, said Binks, since they also contained substances that had similar issues. Where four lead compounds had to have exemptions — two lead oxides and two lead sulfates — he said lithium batteries had the same issue with cobalt, and nickel cadmium batteries with cadmium.

“All would have to go through the REACH process, so it would have an impact on all batteries,” he said.

As well as the reproductive toxicant criterion which qualified substances for the candidate list, other criteria included substances that were persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic; persistent and very bio-accumulative; and substances which gave rise to an equivalent level of concern to all of those above, and with scientific evidence of probable serious effects to human health or the environment.

In California, a similar process began last year, when the Department of Toxic Substances Control proposed that lead batteries be added to its list of priority products.

Manufacturers of goods classified as these have to perform an alternatives analysis of their products, leading to the DTSC considering a regulatory response.

Automakers and battery industry representatives called on the DTSC in December to drop the plans, but a decision has not yet been made.