EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability – Martijn Beekman, European Commission, DG GROW
Despite forty years of chemicals regulations in Europe, today sees high levels of citizen concern about chemical impacts on health and on the environment and scientific evidence of widespread impacts of chemicals. The EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability fixes the objective of SSbD (Safe and Sustainable by Design) chemicals. For flame retardant chemicals, which need to be robust (to ensure durability of products), this requires to move to chemicals with inherently safe properties.
The European Commission recognises the need for policy visibility and transparency, to enable industry to develop and adapt, and published the Restrictions Roadmap specifying which groups of chemicals will be prioritised for regulation in which timelines (April 2022, see pinfa Newsletter n°138). The ECHA Flame Retardants Strategy (March 2023, see pinfa Newsletter n°147) now clarifies priorities for assessing and regulating flame retardants.
Based on information included in REACH Registrations, some 350 chemicals are registered for use as flame retardants, covering a wide range of different types of chemicals and uses.
ECHA is addressing these with a grouping approach, with a key objective of avoiding the “regrettable substitutions” of the past where banned halogenated FRs were substituted by very similar halogenated chemicals.
This grouping approach has identified as priorities the brominated flame retardants (BFRs), with aromatic BFRs considered to be of general concern as PBT/vPvB (persistent bioaccumulative and toxic, very persistent and very bioaccumulative), and more divers concerns about aliphatic BFRs.
For organophosphorus flame retardants, a number of different groups have been identified. Several groups are considered (based on data available) to be of low concern or unlikely to be hazardous, and for other groups data generation is currently ongoing and should enable further assessment within 2-3 years.
Mr Beekman notes that the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability also aims to direct EU research and innovation funding towards SSbD chemicals and climate-neutral chemical production, based on identification of key chemicals needed for EU Strategic Technology sectors. The ECHA Flame Retardants Strategy notes that this can include both flame retardants needed to ensure fire safety and also other fire safety approaches such as fire barriers or inherently fire-resistant materials.