Endangered Species

Periodic Table showing endangered species in red

Periodic Table showing endangered species in red

To download a PDF of this picture, click this link: PeriodicTable-updated. [This document, by the way, is an 8 1/2 x 11 glossy card that we printed up and took to a couple of recent engineering meetings. Every one of them disappeared in no time. If you want a few copies just mail us at lsolnick@rowantechnology.com. If you want a customized version with your own company information on the front and back, let us know and we can give you a price.]

We are all familiar with the table above. Some people vaguely remember it from long-ago high school chemistry lessons, and some, like me, refer to it every day. But all of us depend on it every moment of our lives, since the Periodic Table is the list of all the elements that comprise our world.  Everything in our bodies and everything we manufacture, from airplanes to cell phones to frying pans, must be made from this small collection of atoms, fewer than the colors of lipstick in the drug store.

All the elements in red are on somebody’s “toxic substances” hit list somewhere in the world:

  • In some cases it is the element itself (mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), even zinc (Zn) and silver (Ag))
  • In other cases, a few specific compounds (boric acid, silicon oxide (crystalline silica))
  • And in other cases, almost every compound that can be used for manufacturing (nickel (Ni), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co) compounds).

Starting with Europe and its REACH regulations, governments are increasingly basing environmental and health regulations on hazard, not on risk. In some cases they explicitly adopt the Precautionary Principle (as in Europe), while in others they bring it in the back door (as in California). The purpose of calling materials hazardous substances is to restrict their use or ban them, rather than to take the more rational approach of ensuring that they are used with proper regard for the workers or members of the public who come in contact with them.

What’s the difference between hazard and risk? A hazard is something that can be harmful – the electrical wires running throughout your home, the gas in your cooktop, the bus barreling down the road.  These are all hazards we live with every day.  But they only become risks when we work on the electrical wiring without turning off the power, or turn on the gas without lighting it, or walk out in front of the bus. In the same way “hazardous chemicals” do us no harm unless we eat them or breathe them. Their mere existence or proximity to us (your cell phone is full of them) is of no more consequence than electricity or gas or moving vehicles, or any of the other hazards that make modern life so much better than living in the Middle Ages.

Once you ban or unnecessarily restrict chemicals you end up, not with a safer, cleaner world, but with a world in which modern industrial societies can no longer exist:

  • Without Ni you would have no stainless steel – no stainless knives or cookware, no stainless medical or dental implements
  • Without Zn our cars, chain link fences, metal buildings, metal lampposts and highway barriers would rapidly turn to rust.

You even end up with total absurdities such as treating boric acid as a deadly toxin (look on the contents of your bottle of eye-wash some time), or of regulators trembling in fear over carcinogenic crystalline silica and then taking their kids to the beach for vacation (what do you think sand is made of?).

Banning a chemical means that you have for ever foregone every technology that could have existed because of it. Suppose we had decided in 1950 that silicon was hazardous and banned it, or done the same with phosphorus, boron and arsenic as people are trying to do now. No more I-Phones, laptops, garage door openers, digital watches, grocery scanners. But we could still have big, heavy, black and white electron tube TVs, and computers half as big as a house with less computing power than today’s pocket calculators.

REACH claims its purpose is to drive innovation.  But in the real world, there is no better way to destroy innovation than to ban the materials it depends on.

REACH adds 10 new chemicals to Annex XIV

Last week on Wednesday, June 20th, another 10 priority substances were put forward for Annex XIV. REACH and the chemicals listing of chemicals in Annex XIV have the potential to affect any company doing business in Europe or involved with any industries in Europe. Even companies with no European ties at all are finding themselves affected by the loss of chemicals from the market. Through collaboration with Granta in the UK, Rowan can keep you up to date with REACH and other regulatory changes, while providing information on viable alternatives to restricted chemicals. With new additions continuing to be added to the list, companies have to be sure to keep watching for updates. To go to the document containing all the information about these ten new chemicals, click here. Below is a simplified table of the chemicals.

Note that item 4, Strontium Chromate, is a widely used corrosion inhibitor for aircraft primers.

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.