Evolution of Chemical Regulations and Their Effect on Industry

An overview of standards, and how to establish a chemical management program

10 August 2015

Chemicals can contribute significant value to products; however, they require careful management to protect people, animals and the environment. New laws for restricting harmful chemical content come into effect every year worldwide to control potential risks; existing laws are constantly evolving to keep pace with new information and scientific advancements. As a result, there are a wide variety of chemical regulations manufacturers must address. Below is an overview of some common chemical regulations.

  • Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS): A European directive that bans the following from electric products: mercury, lead, cadmium, hexavalent Chromium, polybrominated biphenyl, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. RoHS 2, or RoHS recast, which provides improved guidelines and expands the scope of products covered, is now a CE marking directive, meaning compliance is required to place a CE marking on a product.
  • Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction ofCHemicals (REACH): A European directive meant to hold companies accountable for understanding and managing risk associated with chemicals. The Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) list contains 161 chemicals; if a product contains any of the listed chemicals above 0.1 percent wt/wt, it must be communicated.
  • The European Union's Waste Electronics and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive: Places the obligation of recycling electrical and electronic equipment products (including collection, treatment, and environmentally friendly disposal) on manufacturers. Failure to comply with the WEEE Directive places manufacturers at risk for prosecution and inability to place products in the EU.
  • Cal Prop 65: The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment publishes a continuously updated list of chemicals "known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity" under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65. Manufacturers that produce consumer products containing chemicals on the list must provide a warning to that the product contains said chemicals, if exposures are high enough to pose a significant risk.
  • Conflict Minerals Act: While this is not a toxic chemical regulation, it still is one that is designed to protect people and should be followed like restricted substance regulations.  As part of the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC requires all U.S. publically traded companies to disclose (through SEC filings) whether they source conflict minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten and/or gold from the Democratic Republic of Congo or the nine surrounding countries, mined to fund local militias. Private companies in a public company's supply chain will be indirectly impacted, as customers request information on these minerals for their SEC filing.

There are several steps manufacturers can take to help establish compliance with chemical regulations:

  • Establish a restricted chemical management program to help ensure organizational knowledge and responsibilities at all levels of a company. Everyone must be aware of their role in limiting the use of restricted chemicals.
  • Document compliance, a simple solution that requires attention to many details. Make sure you are getting proper and valid documentation. Consider ongoing changes to directives. Base technical support on data, not just statements, to determine whether documents are valid, contain the proper information and are up to date with the current standards.
  • Conduct risk assessment and due diligence, looking at the type of materials being supplied, the suppliers themselves and potential exposure. Take precautions to make sure you are getting compliant material, such as requesting full lab data on batches, self-inspection/testing of incoming products and/or supplier audits.

The exposure of having a product found to be environmentally unfriendly is too great to ignore. Implementing a chemical management program, documenting compliance and conducting risk assessments as you develop products will go a long way in mitigating issues. Proper assessment of the intended use and markets for your products and a thorough knowledge of exclusions and exemptions can also provide a benefit in achieving compliance to chemical regulations. Finding experts in the space to partner with is a great option that could ultimately save time and money.

As the Senior Director of Chemical Services for Intertek, Andy Gbur works with manufacturers to insure product compliance to the ever changing landscape of restricted chemical regulations across the globe. He and his staff have been associated with the HVAC/R industry via AHSRAE and AHRI technical committees for the past 22 years, specifically within the chemical and compliance realm. He holds a B.A. in Chemistry from The Ohio State University and is based in Columbus, Ohio.