Trichloroethylene cleaning and degreasing - what you need to know

7 mins read

On 29 April, nearly 100 companies attended a forum at RAF Cosford to hear answers from the HSE about trichloroethylene.

What was it? It was a day of presentations held in a lecture room of the Cold War hangar at the RAF museum at Cosford. The main reason for holding it was for attendees to understand the REACH Authorisation process, as Safechem/Dow is applying for such to continue using trichloroethylene ('trike') on behalf of its supply chain and customers. The idea was that others could hear how Safechem is addressing the issue. The forum was organised by Ebrahim Patel from IB Industries (07947 370205). He represents EVT and Hockh of Germany, who manufacture degreasing machines. Mr Patel wants to address the confusion around his customers' use of trichloroethylene and 'solvents of very high concern', SVHC that have come out of REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals). "Personally, I feel that some questions haven't been answered and that REACH is going to have a long-term effect on us. I want my customers, and all the attendees at this forum, to be able to make decisions based on fact and data. I really care about this." Who attended? Over 100 subcontractors and companies were in the audience. Dave Elliot from the Surface Engineering Association (SEA) presented his view on trichloroethylene and Richard Starkey from Safechem explained how firms should examine alternatives.The big thing was that the HSE was there, and it was the first chance for attendees to meet and hear from the organisation that will be enforcing the future use of cleaning and degreasing chemicals. The HSE said that while REACH is a "big piece of law and complicated, the HSE is there to help firms understand it". The HSE also explained that Annex XVII (17) is the list of restricted substances, which is now up to "about 64 or 65". Firms who want to continue using trichloroethylene must apply for an 'authorisation' to use trike before the deadline of 21st October this year. However, the HSE added that it is now very late in the day to start an application... What do firms now have to do to keep using trichloroethylene? In short, have an authorisation. To gain one, firms will need to create a dossier to show the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that they've considered all the alternatives to using trichloroethylene, and give good technical reasons, not just that it works better, to justify its continued use. Firms will have to show they have 'adequate control' methods in place. But even if a firm has adequate control, the dossier still has to show the results of trying out alternative chemicals in the same application. Mrs Ball explains that "if the alternatives have a higher socio-economic benefit, then you might not be able to keep using trichloroethylene" adding: "ECHA is holding a workshop about other substances as we speak," demonstrating that trichloroethylene might be the tip of the iceberg. There is a list of 151 other substances that the ECHA is looking at as well as trike... What are the main issues? There are many open-top machines, but open solvent use is hap-hazard and operator exposure is high. The use of these machines is exactly what the EEC and HSE are trying to phase out over the long term, as has already happened in Germany where perk, modified alcohols, hydrocarbons and aqueous cleaners are the alternatives to trike. Perchloroethylene (perc) is said to be the best alternative, as it is the closest to trike in characteristics, without the health hazards. Attendees at the forum were given a presentation on how Safran Aircelle, Burnley, Lancs, has solved their needs for metal and composite part cleaning with perc instead of tric. In time, only some totally closed loop, hermetically-sealed machines on the ECHA charter will be allowed to use trike, but alternatives will still have to be investigated. How will the HSE enforce the regime? The answer is with the existing regimes already in place. There was clearly some fear among the audience about what will happen if they can't comply, or if their current processes are too complicated to address. The HSE said the law doesn't allow for a due diligence defence, but said: "We will help companies with their compliance. We accept that compliance can go wrong by accident, and if this is the case, then we'll look at the mitigation." The HSE cannot give on-the-spot fines in the UK. Three local authorities have already been successful in prosecutions however, and if things progress to the Magistrates Court, then judges have the ability to order an unlimited fine and/or sentence two years in prison. It won't be escalated to that straight away (if ever) and it's more likely that enforcement will mean a notice to comply being issued. "We've made 400 interventions already," the HSE says, "Often as a result of complaints from competitors saying other firms aren't doing things properly, or from confessions." The HSE goes on to advise: "It's better to confess your non-compliance, and then the HSE will help you, rather than making us think you're wilfully going against the law." The HSE also said that it may only approach companies that appear to be non-compliant, and that it monitors firms from its desks. It says it's likely that companies have been "inspected remotely" already, and that inspectors can and will be sent to "ask more questions". The representative from the HSE concluded his presentation by recommending firms sign up for the HSE's e-bulletin on REACH ( What did the SEA have to say about tric? Dave Elliot gave the clearest viewpoint on tric. His slides certainly captured the attention of the audience, as did the photo of a person with their head buried in the sand and the title 'What not to do'. He says time is definitely running out to apply for an authorisation: "If you think you need one, then you're probably too late." Mr Elliot said that he seems to be spending more and more time in Brussels, "trying to point out the unintended effects of some of the legislation" coming from there. He addressed many of the concerns about trike in a slide titled 'REACH myths' and he summed the issue up very succinctly by saying: "If you want to use trichloroethylene after the sunset date of 21 April 2016, then it's just like applying for a permit for anything else you might do, it's just normal business practice. If you know the rules of the game and can show the impacts on your business by not having an authorisation, then the outcome becomes more predictable." Mr Elliot went on to back up the HSE's view about alternatives to tric, advising that firms will need to write a report to show the alternatives don't give the same result. However, he warns that: "Replacing one SVHC with another SVHC is definitely not classed as suitable alternative!" He says the best approach is for the manufacturers of trike to apply for an authorisation on behalf of all of the customers it supplies, but it might be the case that a downstream user doesn't want to release any information about the kind of work it carries out, in which case that user (for example, a subcontractor supplying clean-critical parts to aerospace, automotive or medical sectors) would have to apply themselves. Sadly, trade associations, such as SEA can't apply on behalf of its members. How does he know? Well, the SEA has tried. He also told the subcontractors at the forum that if their suppliers weren't already talking to them about alternatives, then they need to ask them, and right away, too. What did Safechem have to say? Richard Starkey, regional sales manager UK (07976 531695), gave a very intelligent presentation on the alternatives that are on the market. The key issue, he says, is losing the ability to remain competitive if firms have to accept using a cleaner or degreaser that is not as good. He gave the audience a much-needed look at the names of alternatives and advised firms to look closely at what contaminants they need to remove and to 'let the science dictate the best method" of removal.He showed a fresh statement from Rolls-Royce that confirms the company has approved Dowclene 1601 as an alternative to trichloroethylene. It is also currently testing Dowper MC perchloroethylene on some processes. Mr Starkey said that Dowclene 1601 is already being used by aerospace, medical and F1 teams and in 1,000s of machines in Germany that are fitted with safety devices and vacuum flash point suppression. Mr Starkey also gave the audience an idea of the amount of work involved in applying for an authorisation by holding up an A4 report that an end user had come up with. Mr Starkey says: "An end user needs to document what alternatives they have analysed, as this might be expected of them post sunset date by the HSE. We imagine that the Dow AoA will most probably be in excess of 40 pages as it has to cover many scenarios." Dow has applied for an authorisation on behalf of its downstream users so it can continue to sell and market Neu-Tri E. "We've pulled all the data from end users trying alternatives out and we've shown in certain cases where aqueous and other types of solvents won't technically work. This is the sort of document you need to come up with." Mr Starkey also talked about the state of today's modern solvent machines, saying that they are now closed systems, they use high performance additives, they have full solvent recovery and all of the volatiles are dealt with. He encouraged the audience to look at trying out Safechem's oil compatibility test to see if parts can be cleaned by something else. He says: "Before you take the plunge with new machinery, you can run this by our labs for peace of mind." He warns the bottom line is that corrosion in these machines is expensive and that monitoring these closed machines is vital to ensure they don't fail. He further reassured the audience that he has machines in place, that Safechem fully understands the chemistry in them and that he is happy to advise firms on how to optimise their processes. "The consultancy and service that we can give companies is now our business focus," he explains. "It's no longer about the volume of chemicals we sell." Dow has also made an extremely useful document called the Chemaware FAQ, available from Dow as a PDF. Has anyone else applied for an authorisation? Exact figures weren't given, but very few so far. Rolls-Royce has approved Dowclene 1601 as an alternative to trichloroethylene. Was the forum successful? Organiser Ebrahim Patel from IB Industries said it was an excellent turn-out, with half of the couple of hundred companies in the UK who use trichloroethylene, in attendance. He also said that having the HSE at the event was "unusual" and it had played a vital part in the success of the day. He expects to hold another forum in a year's time, which is a year before the sunset date of 21 April 2016. What next? The deadline to apply for an authorisation is 21/10/14. Product will still be available from October until the sunset date of April 2016. A firm will only be able to continue using trichloroethylene after the sunset date of April 2016 if it has an Authorisation. Those unsure of whether they need to file for one should put their hands up now and talk to the HSE for guidance. Dave Elliot from the SEA suggests the next steps for firms to be: examine the alternatives, ask suppliers about alternatives, get involved in the process and start now. Or, in plain English, don't bury your head in the sand. The attendees raised £67 for Great Ormond St and that will be matched by each sponsor, raising the total to £335. There is already a waiting list set for the next forum, although the date is to be decided. Mr Patel advises people to register now to guarantee their place.