What fabricators need to know about REACH

June 30, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

The registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals (REACH) legislation enacted by the European Union is a complicated chemical management program that could affect manufacturers worldwide, including metal fabricators. This article sheds light on the legislation and provides resources to answer fabricators' questions about REACH.

Chemical Containers

Editor's Note:Much of the information for this article was taken from documents posted on the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Electronics Weekly Web sites. Links to these documents, along with other links to information about REACH, are provided at the end of this article.

REACH, an acronym for registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals, is a complicated chemicals management program approved by the European Union (EU) in 2007. The program, which was implemented June 1, 2008, affects both chemical and nonchemical manufacturers, including some fabricators.

Under the legislation, manufacturers worldwide are required to register chemical substances they export to the EU in quantities of 1 or more tons annually.

According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), all manufacturers that trade with Europe or supply companies that do so should pay careful attention to the regulatory program. Even companies that do not trade directly with Europe may be affected, because their customers in the U.S. or around the world will require inputs that comply with the EU requirements, or their suppliers may suddenly discontinue longstanding product lines that are no longer profitable under REACH restrictions.

Besides directly affecting chemical producers, REACH also covers products or articles produced by metal fabricators. These articles include those that:

  • Release chemical substances in normal or foreseeable use, e.g., textiles.
  • Release chemical substances in disposal of the product, e.g., automobiles and auto parts.
  • Contain 0.1 percent by weight of substances of very high concern (SVHC), e.g., substances in some electronic components.

For products/articles, the 1-ton minimum requirement applies to the amount of the substance that is expected to be released from the products either in use or disposal and not the total weight of the products themselves. The 1-ton registration limit applies to the amount that each manufacturer or importer brings into the EU, not to the total imports of the substance into the EU from all sources.

Articles Affected

The NAM-posted mandate covering REACH provides guidelines that can help you assess whether your articles require compliance. You may have to comply with REACH:

  1. If your product releases a substance and is exported to or made in Europe. For example, if you manufacture a printer that releases ink, you may have to register the substance.
  2. If your product contains an SVHC and is exported to or made in Europe. If this is the case, you may have to comply with additional obligations.
  3. If your customers export to or make products in Europe. Just because you don't export your product to the EU does not mean that REACH doesn't apply to you. Do you sell to a distributor that exports to Europe? Is your product incorporated into another product that is exported to the EU? If yes, then the burden of registration and SVHC management and reporting will get pushed up the supply chain to you.
  4. If your suppliers or their customers export products to Europe. As the requirements get pushed up the supply chain and are imposed on global manufacturers, supply chains worldwide will be affected.

NAM cautions that even in cases when manufacturer knows that its articles are not covered by the requirements, it may be asked by customers exporting to the EU for documentation of this fact so that they can substantiate their own compliance to EU authorities. Manufacturers with no direct or indirect links to the EU also could be affected if their own suppliers decide to discontinue products that may face restrictions in the EU and thus are no longer commercially viable.

What Fabricators Want to Know

REACH is a daunting piece of legislation that comprises 849 pages of information. The U.K. firm Premier Farnell plc has condensed the voluminous document into a five-page overview of important points that includes a list of common questions and answers, some of particular interest to metal fabricators.

Question 5: Are metals included by REACH?

Answer: Yes, metals are chemicals or preparations. Pure metals, such as copper, are a single substance, whereas alloys are mixtures of materials. Brass, for example, is a solution of copper and zinc.

Question 8: Which materials might contain SVHCs?

Answer: A list of SVHCs is expected to be published by June 2009. The list likely will include various materials that are present in electrical equipment, such as lead (used in solders, some glasses, various electronic components), cadmium (plating, pigments, switch contacts), hexavalent chromium (passivation coatings), beryllium, and arsenic. It also likely will include many fairly common chemicals that are widely used in materials such as polyurethane paints and resins, various types of adhesives, sealants, plating chemicals, and solvent cleaners.

Metals may also contain SVHCs if they contain lead, arsenic, or cadmium.

It is recommended that users check manufacturers' material safety data sheets (MSDS) as these will list all dangerous ingredients and document their hazards. If any are category 1 or 2 carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxins, then these are likely to be SVHCs. Manufacturers are obligated to make the latest version of the MSDS available to downstream users.

Question 10: How are equipment manufacturers located outside the EU affected?

Answer: Manufacturers based outside the EU are not affected directly. [This point seems to be counter to the NAM statement.] They cannot register chemicals or obtain authorization. If they want to do this they will have to appoint an EU agent (called an "Only Representative"by REACH). Also, there are no obligations relating to substances within products, but there are possible indirect implications. EU importers of their products will ask for information about the chemicals within products. Even if non-EU manufacturers' products are not sold in the EU, they could be affected by the withdrawal of materials from the market. This is likely to occur as the EU is a large market and producers may stop selling their products around the world if they are forced to withdraw from Europe [a statement that echoes NAM's]. Further implications may be new legal restrictions imposed outside the EU. It is possible that other countries and states in the USA and Canada could impose new restrictions on chemicals as REACH produces more comprehensive test data on them.

Bottom line: If you have any doubt about whether you need to comply with REACH, contact a professional who can help you determine what, if any, obligations you have. For those who must comply, preregistration in the program currently is under way. More information about the program and registration can be found in these links:

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209