Major EU toxic chemical strategy could impact paint and coating sector

A fresh round of restrictions on what chemicals can be used by the paint and coatings industry has been flagged by a detailed and comprehensive policy paper released by the European Commission. This ‘Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment’ flags changes that the EU executive intends to make to European chemical legislation. These, said the strategy, would be implemented via legislative reforms, including the EU’s chemical control system REACH.

One key change would be planned regulations on chemical mixtures. While EU law already controls individual chemical ingredients and their impact when deliberately mixed, the strategy paper highlights concern that rules ignore “the combined exposure to multiple chemicals from different sources and over time”, especially indoors.

As a result, the Commission said it planned to “assess how to best introduce in [EU chemical control system] REACH mixture assessment factor(s) for the chemical safety assessment of substances”. It explained that that legal requirements should “ensure that risks from simultaneous exposure to multiple chemicals are effectively and systematically taken into account across chemicals-related policy areas”.

Another potential change was orienting the EU’s ‘substances of concern’ controls to chemicals used in construction and furniture sectors, likely to include wood treatments, not only when they might have a chronic impact on human health or the environment, but also if they hamper recycling of otherwise safe and high quality secondary raw materials.

“Regulatory actions need to go hand-in-hand with increased investments in innovative technologies to address the presence of legacy substances in waste streams, which could in turn allow the recycling of more waste,” said the strategy.

As a result, new laws should “incentivise industry to prioritise innovation for substituting, as far as possible, substances of concern [with] sustainable bio-based chemicals…”, it added.

A second strand of controls would flow from Commission plans to extend its ‘generic approach to risk management’, triggering packaging requirements, restrictions, bans and more, to consumer products containing chemicals, as well as the chemicals themselves, as at present.

The goal, said the strategy, would be to “ensure that consumer products [the paper explicitly mentions furniture here] do not contain chemicals that cause cancers, gene mutations, affect the reproductive or the endocrine system, or are persistent and bioaccumulative”.

Also, the Commission said it would toughen EU rules on endocrine disrupters in general, including in coatings, saying it would propose a legally binding hazard identification for endocrine disruptors, building on criteria already developed for biocides. The EU would “ensure that endocrine disruptors are banned in consumer products as soon as they are identified, allowing their use only where it is proven to be essential for society.”

And it would tightly restrict the use of fire retardants per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), widely used in coatings, “allowing their use only where they are essential for society”.


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