US Senate EPW approves Safe Chemicals Act

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has approved the “Safe Chemicals Act,” which was introduced last year. The legislation is intended to protect Americans from dangerous toxic chemicals that are found in everyday consumer products.

The measure is expected to move forward along party lines.  That is to say, it’s “unlikely to advance without bipartisan support” (Tribune).

“This vote is a major milestone in our effort to fix America’s broken system for regulating toxic chemicals,” said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2011” last year in an effort to modernize the “Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976” (TSCA).

The bill aims to provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the tools it needs to require health and safety testing of toxic chemicals and places the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe.

Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.

Where the chemicals are. Scientists and environmental groups have expressed concern about chemicals that are used in the production of a wide-range of consumer products.  NJToday’s list of such products includes:

  1. Rug cleaners and stain-resistant carpet
  2. Non-stick cookware
  3. Vinyl products
  4. Dishwashing liquids
  5. Fabric softeners
  6. Upholstery
  7. Insulation, and
  8. Hair dyes

The Safe Chemicals Act would:

  1. Require manufacturers to develop and submit safety data for each chemical they produce, while avoiding duplicative or unnecessary testing.
  2. Prioritize chemicals based on risk, so that EPA can focus resources on evaluating those most likely to cause harm while working through the backlog of untested existing chemicals.
  3. Place the burden of proof on chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their chemicals.
  4. Restrict uses of chemicals that cannot be proven safe.
  5. Establish a public database to catalog the information submitted by chemical manufacturers and the EPA’s safety determinations.
  6. Promote innovation and development of safe chemical alternatives, and bring some new chemicals onto the market using an expedited review process.

Actio’s position on the Safe Chemicals Act is that it would be much easier to establish policies at a federal level than have the tangle of state and sector parameters in place now.

However, cheekily we might point out that Actio software exists to untangle those compliance webs — so maybe as a company we should have mixed feelings towards federal level policy!  (Truly: this one US federal law passing would not eliminate the need to Actio software — the need exists as long as there are international regulations, supply chain transparency needs, and unique declarable substances lists within discrete market sectors.)

The fact is that policy watchers see no real reason to believe the Safe Chemicals Act will gather serious momentum in the near future.  But you never know.  We’ll keep watching.

Cadmium Banned in Europe in November

The European Commission announced May 20 that the European Union will ban cadmium in jewelry, brazing sticks and plastics beginning this November. A Commission press release states that the new legislation, which will be adopted as an amendment under the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation, will prohibit the use of cadmium in all types of jewelry products, except antiques; brazing sticks, which are used to join dissimilar materials; and — in theory — all plastics.  

We say “in theory” in regards to the cadmium ban in “all plastics” because the Commission notice on the updated cadmium restriction appears to have inconsistencies regarding plastics.

The notice on World Trade Interactive suggests that cadmium will be banned in all plastics (with the exception of some recycled PVC).  But an article in British Plastics & Rubber points out semantic oddities in the Commission’s draft document.

The draft references the proposed amendment to Restriction 23 of Annex XVII, which covers cadmium and its compounds.  However, the Commission’s report contained no changes from the 2010 document regarding the list of materials that would be affected.  The wording of the recent statement says “all plastics” would be affected by the ban, but the itemized list of named plastics remains the same.

This leaves the door open for some agents to interpret that plastics not itemized on the list are exempt.

This language snarl is worth being aware of.  In the long view however, while it may delay a revision, it likely won’t stop the fact that cadmium use in virtually “all plastics” will be banned in the EU either in Q4 of this year or shortly thereafter.

And that, of course, is the “heads up.”  (For more on the language snarl, see article, Cadmium — banned or not?)

Cadmium backstory. Cadmium has many uses. It’s used in paint as a pigment, for starters. Or was. EPA and regulatory bodies around the world have been trying to restrict or prohibit cadmium use in paint for years. Often trace amounts of cadmium result in public-perception denigration and expensive product recalls that affect the bottom line; such events are arguably more of a deterrent for industry than the anti-cadmium regulations themselves.

Last summer, for instance, REACH compliance watchdogs found traces of cadmium in Shrek glasses for children. The glasses were manufactured to be sold at McDonald’s as part of the Shrek film promotion. McDonald’s had to recall over 12 million of the glasses that would have retailed for $2 each; that’s a loss of $24 million, plus the operational costs of the recall.

Many think recall events due to substances like cadmium are primarily a supply chain communication failure. While that is true, recalls also point to a regulatory gap and a supply chain that quite naturally tries to cut corners.

The EU appears to be ready to send a clear message:  no cadmium. And to many manufacturers — although probably not to the manufacturers of cadmium pigment — a clear regulation is a welcome regulation. Last year, EPA moved on this item as well when cadmium turned up in kids’ jewelry.

Cadmium alternatives. There’s no reason we need to be using cadmium in this day and age, right?  Problem is, especially for industrial uses, cadmium is very effective as a plating over steel as it’s remarkably resistant to corrosion.

A cadmium alternative for components must be, among other things:

  1. A panacea: act as a general corrosion coating for all seasons
  2. Specific protection: provide good salt spray and scribed corrosion protection
  3. Non-crackable case: cannot succumb to hydrogen embrittlement or stress corrosion cracking.

As a coating, the cadmium alternatives must, among other things:

  1. Retain thread profile/detail underneath, especially in jewelry
  2. Be solderable
  3. Be usable in electrical equipment in terms of conductivity and heat-effect limits.

At, the government says that coatings of zinc or vapor-deposited aluminum can substitute for cadmium in plating applications.

In 2002, a group published an evaluation of cadmium replacement alternatives for aircraft with notable results. Typically aircraft are exempt from cadmium legislation because of a “no known alternative” clause. In other words, nothing works as well so it is allowed for now.

This still creates a cost and a wrench in manufacturing process, however, due primarily to the problem of disposal of this known-toxic material at end-of-life. Where does cadmium go to die? We’ve all heard of the aircraft boneyard.  Aircraft manufacturers are responsible for end of life disposal of all parts and components (and substances).  The costs associated with end-of-life makes alternatives to cadmium look better and better.  For more on aircraft and replacements, see the Rowan Technology Group 2002 report on cadmium replacements.  It’s an interesting document.  Spoiler alert:  the report concludes that aluminum (Al) is the best cadmium replacement for uses in aerospace, automotive and electronic components in terms of behaving most like cadmium.

The point is that there are alternatives to cadmium — depending on application. For the most part, the replacements are sister- or cousin-metals.

For more on the cadmium ban coming in November under REACH regulation, review the European Commission’s press release.  Also, keep an eye on this blog as we’ll keep you posted on the critical cadmium (and similar) regulatory update status as we go through 2011.

5 Case Studies on REACH Compliance

For companies still wondering how their situation fits into REACH, the following case studies may help. These case studies address compliance in a variety of scenarios. The five instances of how-other-companies-did-it represent common situations. The case studies address both upstream and downstream scenarios.

1. Downstream user under REACH (with confidential uses)
A medium sized company supplying preparations to the marine sector consider implications of keeping this use of a substance confidential from their suppliers; find out what further action they may need to follow as a downstream user under REACH.

2. Global manufacturing company seeks to automate the collection of supplier data for REACH
A Fortune 500 manufacturer and retailer with operations worldwide seeks to automate supplier chemical data collection as much as possible for compliance with REACH.

3. AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and famous furniture company Herman Miller along with an automobile agency voice software testimonials on software products they use to manage substance-level compliance with substances under REACH and similar regulations.

4. An alloy producer (see also RoHS) clarifies duties under REACH
A producer of alloys determines that under REACH it is the component metals that constitute the alloys they manufacture that are within the scope of registration and for one of these that they import they will have registration obligations.

5. REACH and a company importing a solvent from the US
A company importing a solvent for the first time from outside the EU is concerned about having missed the preregistration deadline but finds they can pre-register and get help from other SIEF members.

These case studies — unless otherwise indicated and linked above — may be found on the web (at the time of this posting) at the following URL: