Legislation Introduced to “REACH-ify” US Manufacturing

Two major initiatives have just  been released to impose European REACH-like regulations on the US manufacturing sector:

1. July 25, 2012: Sen. Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, S. 847 (aka TSCA Reform) was reported by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on a 10-8 party line vote.

2. July 27, 2012: The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued Draft Regulations for Safer Consumer Products Alternatives as Part of the CA Green Chemistry Initiative.

The European REACH rules are explicitly based on the Precautionary Principle, whose underlying presumption is that all chemicals are toxic unless proved otherwise.  Under REACH the mere presence of a toxic chemical is unacceptable, regardless of how critical it is to manufacturing and whether or not it presents any actual risk.  This leads to the Substitution Principle, that one must always search for less-toxic alternatives, which makes sense in principle (who would use a toxic material if a benign alternative could do exactly the same thing). But in the real world, where no two chemical do exactly the same thing, this approach leads to a never-ending quest, since every chemical (even air and water) is toxic at a high enough dose.  REACH is in effect a tax on manufacturers around the world.  Its worst effects are just beginning to be felt in Europe, creating huge costs, risks and uncertainties for all manufacturers and leading us to expect that it will ultimately drive most manufacturing out of the EU.

US environmental regulations are built on the presumption that chemicals must be proved to be toxic before being restricted or banned.  They are also based on cost-benefit and risk – the mere existence of a hazardous chemical is not a problem, what matters is whether it presents a real risk to humans or the environment, and whether the benefits of regulation are worth the costs.

Although neither the proposed SCA nor the SCPA regulations reference the PP, they are both modeled on REACH and impose the Precautionary Principle.  In fact, reading the information behind the SCPA states that DTSC intends to use it as a vehicle for applying the Precautionary Principle.  (DTSC’s website proudly showcases its Director as “the architect of San Francisco’s groundbreaking Precautionary Principle legislation [who] spearheaded the citywide adoption of a precautionary approach to environmental decision-making”.)

The Safe Chemicals Act is clearly modeled on REACH and will impose costs and uncertainties on US manufacturing similar to those that REACH imposes in Europe.  Both REACH and the SCA claim to be aimed at encouraging innovation, but the complexity and cost of SCA will crush the development of innovative materials and innovative uses of existing materials in the US just as effectively as REACH is doing in Europe.  This is especially true for the small, entrepreneurial companies that typically develop the most innovative materials products.

The best approach for manufacturers is to keep ahead of the competition and regulation by staying aware of what is coming down the pike and what are the best manufacturing options for both the short and long term (see REACH Solutions).

EPA Set to Issue Stricter Hex Cr rules

On July 17, 2012 EPA sent to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) their new proposed MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) for hexavalent chromium.  This is the final step prior to publication in the Federal Register, probably in August.  The rule is aimed at plating shops and will do two things:

  1. Halve the permissable Cr6+ air emissions from chrome plating shops.  Since plating shops account for 0.35% of all Cr6+ emissions in the US based on the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory, this will reduce Cr6+ in the air by all of 1.7 parts per thousand at most.
  2. At the same time ban the use of PFOS over the next 3 years.  PFOS is a very stable, and therefore bioaccumulative chemical that is used in chrome plating baths to reduce Cr6+ air emissions.

What is the effect for most US businesses and consumers?  Chrome plating is used on the tools that manufacture almost every product we use every day – plates for printing dollar bills, rollers to produce the steel and aluminum to make metal products from forks to fork lifts, molds for plastic products from toothbrushes to televisions, dies for stamping out everything from tiny cell phone connectors to coins and car doors.  (Click here for more details on hard chrome alternatives.)

It is also widely used in aerospace and defense, both industries where safety is paramount.  For that reason the Navy pointed out to EPA that they could not possibly qualify a safe alternative to PFOS in 3 years, and the same is true for the aircraft industry, where the landing gear and all the hundreds of hydraulic actuators that control every passenger aircraft are chrome plated.  Why does it take so long to qualify an alternative as safe?  Ask yourself next time you board a plane if you would much rather they just cut out most of that testing.

Trivalent chrome plating has been in use for years, but it is only useful for thin decorative chrome such as you see on Harley motorbikes (which is mostly Ni, by the way, but that is a different story).  Despite the expenditure of many milions or dollars (and euros) nobody has yet been able to commercialize a way of using trivalent chrome for the much more difficult job of making thick, wear-resistant hard chrome coatings.

There is a qualified alternative, HVOF thermal spray coatings, which have been used on all new landing gear designs for a number of years.  It cannot be used everywhere hard chrome is used, but it handles most of it, while aerospace-qualified electroless Ni can handle most of the rest, and Co-based electroplates are being introduced as well.

And for all of those production tools?  There are some new electroplates based on cobalt and on nickel plating, and for some molds and dies there are ultra-hard PVD coatings such as TiN – a lot more expensive, a lot longer lasting, but not readily available for large tools.

But all those alternatives are more expensive, and there is always a tradeoff – the more it costs to make it here, the more it will be made elsewhere.

For more information see New Updates at the National Association for Surface Finishing at http://www.nasf.org/nasf-news.php.

Latest additions to REACH Annex XIV Authorization List

Dec 20, 2011 – 13 new substances sent to European Commission for inclusion in REACH Annex XIV. Substances in Annex XIV cannot be used in the EU without Authorization – a very complicated, expensive, and limited duration proposition.

Chromium trioxide (chromic acid) is one of the most important of all plating chemicals. It is the fundamental building block for hard chrome plating, and is often used for decorative chrome plating as well. Without hard chrome plating many of the major European industries would find it hard to function, including steel and aluminum production (where it is used on mill rolls), and plastics production (where it is used on molds). In addition chromic acid and sodium dichromate are the most common conversion coatings used for aircraft skins, and since hard chrome plating is still widely used for aircraft actuators and landing gear, these chemicals are essential to the European aerospace industry.

Just to make life more complicated, the listed cobalt salts are essential for most of the trivalent passivation alternatives used for zinc alloys, including for the ZnNi coatings that have taken the place of cadmium in the automotive industry, and the similar LHE ZnNi that is beginning to replace Cd plating in aerospace.

As far as we are aware chromic acid is the only one of these substances for which a Consortium has been set up for Authorization.  Individual companies may be seeking Authorization for some other substances, such as sodium dichromate, but if not these chemicals will become unavailable in Europe in 2015.

As of June 2011 these had not yet been adopted by the Commission.