February 10, 2022: European proposals that would require lead to be listed on a chemicals ‘authorization’ register could trigger a batteries “investment freeze” and derail EU carbon reduction plans, industry leaders have warned.
The European Chemicals Agency is proposing that lead metal be added to its REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) list — indicating that the substance will eventually be substituted and can only be used in the meantime with specific permission from the European Commission.
But the Lead REACH Consortium has called for the proposals to be dropped or risk threatening a wide range of EU industries, from battery manufacturers to metal recyclers.
The consortium — which represents more than 90 companies involved in the mining, smelting, refining and recycling of lead, as well as manufacturers of lead compounds and producers of lead-based automotive and industrial batteries — said existing “highly effective risk management measures” already limit risks presented by lead exposure.
Consortium chair and sustainability director at non-ferrous metals provider Aurubis Beerse, Inge Maes, said the proposed authorization process was “a blunt and bureaucratic tool”.
The move would hit a “broad range of essential industries that are delivering services and products that are supporting EU ‘Green Deal’ objectives, such as reducing climate change and enhancing circularity”, Maes said.
“Lead is an essential raw material that is safely recycled and used in advanced manufacturing facilities across Europe, which comply with or aim to exceed EU legislation designed to manage any risks.”
The proposal would hit the EU’s advanced battery manufacturing sector, where about 90% of lead is used — with 80% coming from waste batteries collected and safely recycled at end-of-life, the consortium said.
In addition to batteries, lead is a “vital raw material” for industries producing cables linking wind farms to grids, solar panel systems and enabling recycling of other metals and transition technology elements, the consortium said.