This could be the year when REACH, the European Union's (EU) controversial legislation on the control of chemicals, starts to have a major impact on Europe's coatings sector.
European coatings producers, as well as other big downstream users of chemicals, are becoming increasingly concerned that by the end of the year REACH, which has been introduced to gather safety data on chemicals on the market, will be disrupting supplies of raw materials.
"We are anticipating that by the turn of the year we will be having significant problems with supplies of some chemicals," said a business development manager at one coatings company. "We are hoping that we will be able to find alternative suppliers. But we may not have much time because at the moment many suppliers are not keeping us informed about their activities with REACH."
The paint industry is particularly exposed to the effects of REACH due to the large quantity and range of chemicals they use to formulate their products.
"Coatings companies should carefully analyze their raw materials portfolio, identify the ones which could be vulnerable to an interruption in supplies and identify those which are critical to their business and make appropriate provision to ensure continuation of supplies," said Tony Newbould, a consultant at ajn solutions, Brentwood, England, who was formerly deputy chief executive of the British Coatings Federation.
The legislation, which was introduced in mid-2007, is being implemented over an 11-year period ending in 2018. By then the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which is responsible for administering REACH, should have achieved the legislation's objective of registering all chemicals produced or imported into the EU with an annual output of one ton or more.
The registration dossiers of each chemical will contain data on its safety profile including details of its safe use and application through the supply chain to its eventual disposal.
A prime aim of REACH is the dissemination of safety data on individual chemicals down the chain to all end-users. It is also governed by the principle, "no data, no market." If a producer or importer has not submitted a registration dossier for a chemical by a certain deadline it has to be withdrawn from the market.
Although chemical companies have to register their individual products themselves, much of the registration dossier for each chemical is being put together by its producers and importers grouped within what is called a substance information exchange forum (SIEF). The idea behind the creation of SIEFs is that they will help reduce costs because the expense of data collection will be shared by its members.
Under REACH all producers and importers have had to pre-register each of their chemicals with basic data in order to signal their intention, particularly to their customers, to complete a full registration at a later date.
Approximately 2.7 million pre-registrations have been filed-roughly 13 times higher than originally estimated by ECHA.
The deadline for the first batch of pre-registrations to be turned into full registrations is November 2010, when producers and importers of all chemicals with an output of 1,000 tons or more will have to submit dossiers for them with ECHA.
Also by the same date, all chemicals over a one-ton output, which are classified as being category one or two CMRs-carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction-must be registered. In addition substances above 100-ton annual production, which are classed as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB), will have to be registered.
ECHA estimates that approximately 9,000 chemicals will need to be registered by the end of November, equivalent to between a third and a quarter of the total to be registered under REACH. But they are the ones requiring the most work in terms of gathering of safety data because the higher the volume the more test data is required by the legislation, while even more information is demanded for the safety profiles ofCMRs, PBTs and vPvBs.
"There is now a real possibility that because so much needs to be done between now and the end of November that a lot of companies will not be able to meet the deadline and will have to take their products off the market," said Jo Lloyd, technical director of ReachReady, a consultancy set up by the UK Chemical Industries Association (CIA) to provide guidance on the legislation.
The major problem is that large numbers of SIEFS are not working properly. Communication between the members, which can range from a few companies to several thousand, is poor. There are also arguments within SIEFs about how much individual members should pay for test data, particularly when it is provided by another SIEF member.
Companies within SIEFs have been slow to agree on which one of them should be the lead registrant. This position has the responsibility of drawing up the basic registration dossier to which the individual members will add their own specific data, such as information on the use and application of the chemicals among their customers.
ECHA was estimating at the beginning of the year that approximately 2,000 SIEFs for substances due for registration in 11 months had lead registrants, leaving 7,000 without someone organizing the creation of the basic dossier. Earlier the agency had warned that the basic dossiers should be completed by midsummer to leave individual companies time to add information for their individual registrations.
A key component of that information will be details of exposure scenarios, which assess the health and environmental risks of chemicals to workers in downstream customer sectors like coatings and outline measures for managing the risks. These exposure scenarios will be added to safety data sheets for passing down the supply chain.
The European coatings producers association (CEPE) has drawn up generic exposure scenarios to make it easier for chemical suppliers to add to their registration dossiers data on the use and application of substances in the coatings sector. Coatings companies will be hoping that there will be few chemical companies for whom the scenarios will be a waste of time because of their failure to meet the November deadline.