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December 8, 2008
Volume 86, Number 49
Web Exclusive


Authorization Gets A Taste Of SIN

Patricia L. Short

After launching preregistration of chemicals, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) turns its attention to authorization.


    5-tert-Butyl-2,4,6-nitro-m-xylene (musk xylene)
    Benzyl butyl phthalate
    C10–13 chloro-alkanes (short-chain chlorinated paraffins)
    Cobalt dichloride
    Diarsenic pentaoxide
    Diarsenic trioxide
    Dibutyl phthalate
    Hexabromocyclododecane (including α-, β- and ϒ-diastereoisomers)
    Lead hydrogen arsenate
    Sodium dichromate
    Triethyl arsenate

In late October, ECHA published a candidate list of 15 "substances of very high concern, or SVHCs"—chemicals known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, persistent, bioaccumulative, or toxic. These 15 chemicals will be covered under the "A" part of REACH, the European Union regulatory regime to register, evaluate, and authorize chemicals (C&EN, Nov. 3, page 17).

The initial list contains only 15 chemicals, but it eventually could include as many as 1,400, according to some estimates. These SVHCs can be authorized for use only if companies can put together a persuasive case that they can maintain "adequate control" of risks, that no suitable substitutes are available, and that the socioeconomic benefits outweigh health and environmental risks.

ECHA will have to authorize the chemicals for specific uses. Companies that make the SVHCs are also bound by more stringent legal requirements, says Geert Dancet executive director of ECHA. "It is critical," he says, that producers "know that the inclusion of the substances in the list generates immediate new legal obligations" for the communications all along the supply chain.

Even before the agency had posted its list, however, it was eclipsed by a much longer list published by a coalition of environmental and consumer-interest groups. This "wish list" of 267 chemicals the consortium wants to see removed from the marketplace is termed the "Substitute it Now"—or SIN—list.

ChemSec, the Gothenburg, Sweden-based secretariat for the coalition, calls ECHA's list "a welcome start, but a drop in the ocean." According to ChemSec, there are "hundreds of well-known dangerous substances present in products used every day across Europe." EU countries, the secretariat argues, should do more, faster to get such chemicals off the market.

The SIN list will give the EU member-country authorities a push to be more active in selecting future SVHC chemicals, Dancet acknowledges. These authorities have no deadline to act, he points out, so without some external pressure, identifying SVHC chemicals could slip as a priority.

Beyond pressuring member countries, however, ChemSec aims to put peer pressure on potential SVHC users by creating a de facto blacklist.

"Many progressive companies have already started to phase them out, including major players in the electronics sector that have eliminated the uses of brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride," the coalition says. Companies that have supported the SIN list include electronics firms Dell and Sony Ericsson, Swedish clothing retailer H&M, and consumer products firm Sara Lee.

Investment research company Innovest has analyzed the financial implications of REACH and the SIN list for 73 chemical companies. Of those companies, its study says, about 15% would see impact of more than 2% of annual sales, "assuming that the ChemSec SIN list is adopted in its entirety."

Dyes and inks "are at greatest risk" during the authorization phase of REACH, the Innovest report concludes, because of the large number of SVHC chemicals employed as nonexempt intermediates or dye carriers. A case in point is anthracene, a precursor to anthraquinone dyes. More than half of the SVHCs involved in inks and dyes production are "imperative to the production process and will require significant reformulation," the Innovest study says.

The point of authorization is to encourage development of safer, more benign substances, ECHA says. And this provides a silver lining, according to Innovest's analysts: "We find companies attempting to capitalize on REACH by developing alternative chemicals to replace those that are likely to be early candidates for restriction or phaseout. Over time, this type of activity could represent a potential source of breakthrough revenue."

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