Machinery received a press release recently that screeched: "Industry Faces New Burdens as Banned Chemicals List is Tripled", in relation to the REACH process (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals), with trichloroethylene as one of the named "banned" substances.
Well, the banned list hasn't tripled yet and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has only recommended action. Dow Europe GmbH helpfully provided some more solid information, providing an ECHA statement, which reads: "This request [for the exemption from authorisation of trichloroethylene for industrial use for surface cleaning in closed systems] made reference to ongoing activities potentially resulting in inclusion of a binding Occupational Exposure Limit (bOEL) for trichloroethylene in Directive 2004/37/EC (Carcinogens and mutagens at work).
"If a bOEL for workers would be included in this Directive, the conclusion that existing EU legislation aimed at protection of workers against risks to their health (including Directives 98/24/EC and 2004/37/EC) currently does not impose binding minimum requirements for controlling risks to workers' health during the use phase or throughout the life cycle of trichloroethylene may need to be revisited."
It takes a few reads, doesn't it, but, basically, if there were to be a binding Occupational Exposure Limit established and included in the named Directive, then banning would not occur, since legal safe limits for use would clearly exist.
Dow Europe concurs: "If the inclusion [in the Directive] takes place, it would serve as justification for the request for exemption of the use of trichloroethylene as a surface cleaning agent in closed systems, as recommended by ECHA."
As a matter of interest, at the moment, for the UK, HSE puts national occupational exposure limits at 100 ppm (8 hour exposure, TWA) and 150 ppm for short-term exposure (15 mins, TWA). Europe's Scientific Committee for Occupational Exposure Limits has previously proposed Occupational Exposure Limits of 10 ppm (8 hour, TWA) and 30 ppm as a short-term exposure limit (15 min, TWA).
Fundamentally, says Dow Europe, the decision on OEL inclusion within the Directive 2004/37/EC is expected to be made prior to February 2013, which is the same date that is put as the earliest likely inclusion of trichloroethylene within what is called Annexe XIV of REACH – chemicals requiring authorisation for their use. Restriction follows such an authorisation listing, which could include a ban. But it's clearly not time to panic yet.
Author: Andrew Allcock