10 July 2019
Chemicals in Consumer Goods Could See Broader Shift Towards Increased Restrictions Under New “Group Approach”
Hong Kong traders involved in the manufacturing of non-stick coatings, plastic casings, electronic displays and the production of food and feed may like to take note of three recent European regulatory developments. European regulators have taken steps aimed at banning the use of certain chemicals common in the manufacturing of these products, namely: (1) HFPO-DA (i.e. 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2 (heptafluoropropoxy) propionic acid, its salts, and its acyl halides), (2) DBNPA (i.e. 2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide), and (3) halogenated flame retardants. While the use of these chemicals is still permitted at the moment, Hong Kong traders should take note of increased regulatory burdens and possible long-term bans.
HFPO-DA: Manufacturers have increasingly turned to HFPO-DA as a replacement for PFOA (i.e. perfluorooctanoic acid), which Hong Kong traders may recall was subject to a global ban under the Stockholm Convention. HFPO-DA is primarily used in the production of non-stick coatings, wire cables, and resins. However, new evidence shows that the substance has endocrine disrupting effects and may be toxic for vital organs. Further, HFPO-DA is highly persistent and highly mobile in water, leading scientists to warn that it is likely to accumulate in the natural environment.
Accordingly, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) met in Helsinki during the week of 25 June 2019 and unanimously voted to add HFPO-DA to its Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern (“SVHC Candidate List”). The inclusion of a substance on the SVHC Candidate List signals possible future bans and brings immediate obligations for suppliers of articles (essentially, finished products including electronics, clothing, footwear and toys) that contain the substance, such as:
- communicating down the supplier chain on safe use,
- responding to consumer requests for information on the substance within 45 days, and
- notifying ECHA if the article they produce contains an SVHC in quantities above one tonne per producer/importer per year and if the substance is present in those articles above a concentration of 0.1% (w/w).
The decision to include HFPO-DA in the SVHC Candidate List will take effect in mid-July, according to an ECHA statement.
DBNPA: At the same ECHA Helsinki meeting, the biocidal products committee adopted an opinion concluding that the active substance DBNPA should not be approved for use in food and feed production. This opinion was made on the basis that DBNPA has endocrine disrupting properties. Hong Kong traders should note that this opinion is not yet binding and that the European Commission will make a final decision on how to regulate the substance in tandem with the EU Member States.
Halogenated flame retardants: From March 2021 onwards, halogenated flame retardants in plastic casings and electronic displays will be banned from the EU market. According to a European Commission estimate, the ban is expected to improve plastic recycling by 84kT CO2 eq/year. The ban affects displays intended for household, office, or commercial use, including:
- monitors, and
- signage displays.
In a recent letter to the European Commission, the European Environmental Bureau and the European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation gave their support for the ban. The letter added that several alternatives to halogenated flame retardants “have been, and continue to be, developed… [with] ‘drop-in alternatives’ already available on the market”.
The ban also sets an interesting precedent whereby regulators can address hazardous chemicals through ecodesign measures that target an entire group of restricted products, like halogenated flame retardants in plastic casings and electronic displays. Typically, European regulators have implemented bans on a substance-by-substance basis. Here, the ecodesign measures encompass a large group of hazardous substances. This new group approach covers a broader swath of chemicals that fall within a restricted product category, and it more effectively prevents manufacturers from replacing one hazardous substance with a similarly dangerous one.
A new “group approach” to regulating chemicals? Hong Kong traders should be aware that these decisions could signal a broader shift towards more of a group approach that targets entire product categories. For instance, the environmental group Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) recently argued that ECHA should support the development of a group approach to listing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on the SVHC Candidate List. Karmenu Vella, EU Environment Commissioner, hinted at such an approach when he suggested that EU chemicals policy should be rationalised, simplified and applied consistently across the Member States.