Substances of Concern

Chemicals can provide essential functions to society but harmful substances pose risks to our health and the environment. 

The common presence of toxic man-made substances, in more or less complex mixtures, in consumer products that adults and children are exposed to on a daily basis, or direct exposure to dangerous chemicals (via air and water), is very problematic. A number of substances long known to be hazardous, as well as numerous newer substances which science is only recently or still inconclusively deeming to be hazardous, are not regulated in a protective or precautionary manner. Neurotoxic and endocrine disrupting substances, so-called ‘cocktail effects’, and non-tested hazardous nanomaterials are striking examples of regulatory neglect.

The EU REACH regulation, which should offer some protection from dangerous chemicals, is implemented at an unacceptably slow pace when it comes to the substitution of substances of very high concern (SVHC). Bodies of water, like lakes and rivers, still exceed the chemical and ecosystem quality standards required under the EU’s Water Framework Directive and the phase out of regulated priority hazardous substances has not yet been achieved.

The overall safety of industrial activities, where dangerous substances are used, is also of importance. Production processes involving the use, the production or indirect emissions of chemicals of concern pose a threat to the environment and to human health. The implementation of the ‘substitution principle’ is therefore also a valid approach in industrial production that aims to be sustainable and responsible.

The majority of IED installations, which are also covered under the Seveso III framework, are (petro-) chemical installations, biocides, pesticides and fertilisers production, where dangerous substances are either produced or used to manufacture dangerous chemicals (as intermediates).

Certain BREFs deal with the production of chemicals of concern, in particular the Large Volume Organic Chemicals (LVOC) BREF, as well as the Organic Fine Chemicals (OFC) BREF, Manufacture of Polymers and the Inorganic Chemicals production BREFs (LVIC-S or LVIC-AAF). Information on the amount of chemicals produced are provided in those BREFs.

Some other BREFs like the processing of metals, surface treatment with solvents or wood preservation chemicals (STS BREF), textiles manufacturing (TXT BREF), or Food Drink and Milk (FDM BREF) amongst others, all involve the use of chemicals of concern in high amounts. However, detailed data on the use of such substances (type and quantity) is not always available.

The IED framework requires special attention to substances of concern through various provisions, based on an ‘intrinsic hazard approach’:

  • Annex II (Air) point 12 and Annex II (Water) point 4, 5, and 13 (PHS/PS), referring to substances of concern based on intrinsic hazard properties (similar to REACH Art 57). 
  • Article 14(1) (a)  provides that permits have to set measures (such as Emission Limit Values) for "polluting substances listed in Annex II, and for other polluting substances, which are likely to be emitted from the installation concerned in significant  quantities, having regard to their nature and their potential to transfer pollution from one medium to another;" (emphasis added)
  • Annex III point 2 provides that BAT have to require “the use of less hazardous substances
  • Annex III point 2 provides that BAT have to meet the “need to prevent or reduce to a minimum the overall impact of the emissions on the environment and the risks to it

Efforts undertaken by Member States, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), NGOs and industry to promote the substitution of chemicals of concern must therefore be supported through the BREFs, which currently focus on the emissions (to air) from the installation and less on the impacts of the chemicals manufactured or used in the manufacturing process (intermediates). A stronger synergy with REACH related activities is therefore desired.

Best Available Techniques (BAT) means “the most effective and advanced stage in the development of activities and their methods of operation which indicates the practical suitability of particular techniques for providing the basis for emission limit values and other permit conditions designed to prevent and, where that is not practicable, to reduce emissions and the impact on the environment as a whole”. This should mean the ‘state of the art’ techniques for industry, far beyond binding minimum standards, as already set under EU chemicals legislation. An essential criterion of BAT is the use of less hazardous substances (substitution objective) and to prevent negative impacts to the environment arising from an industrial activity (inputs/processes/outputs).

At the 23rd Forum of the IED, a working document was presented by the European Commission: “Reconsideration of the ‘Strategy to review the chemical BREFs”.

Recent BREF reviews have shown positive progress in the field. These have materialized in the STS BREF, where the substitution of chemicals of concern (SVHC) is considered as a key environmental issue for the review. Similar work is underway in the Ferrous Metals Processing BREF.

Successful substitution of substances of concern as a risk prevention measure should be incorporated into the BREFs, in particular for the purpose of ambitious implementation of the relevant Seveso III Directive provisions, such as the Major Accidents Prevention Policy and the elaboration of Safety Reports (see Prevention of Accidents section). 

There should also be a better consideration of combined effects. Links between REACH and the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) need to be established when promoting the substitution of chemicals of concern, be it in the production of those unwanted substances, their use as intermediates or for industrial processes or as indirect emissions through products produced by the industrial activity.

Priority target chemicals of concern are found on the SIN 2.0 List and on the SUBS PORT Substitution Support Portal.

The EEB's position on the Commission's Strategy on Chemicals BREFs was shared in October 2014. A December 2014 EEB letter to the European Chemicals Agency requested they "provide technical and scientific support in the reconsideration of the strategy on the chemicals BREFs... and other [IED] activities".

The EEB would like the following tasks to be carried out in advance of every BREF review:

  • Check of REACH registration data for chemicals produced/used in IED Annex I activities (that would capture the high volume chemicals and certain substances of concern).
  • Thorough assessment on whether any substance covered in the Roadmap on Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC), the candidate list SVHC or the CoRAP (substances under evaluation), the Substitute It Now (SIN) list, CMR substances under Annex VI for CLP or substances of concern identified by the ECHA experts groups on PBTs, EDCs, and nanomaterials are used and/or produced in IED Annex I installations.
  • Check whether the above substances of concern are used in industrial processes (as intermediates) or produced as end products and whether grouping of substances could be made.
  • Provide indication of volumes (production) and (uses) for the respective IED activities.

The above findings would provide essential elements to make an informed assessment on the ‘key environmental issues’ and a quantification of sectors or processes where and for what purpose (chemical function) those substances are mainly produced/used.

Annex II pollutants are considered as a minimal list of substances to be scrutinized and addressed in BAT conclusions, a “hazard approach” is to be taken to support substitution objectives within the industrial activities subject to BREFs. BAT relating to processes in the chemical sector should be in coherence with the 12 Green Chemistry Principles / sustainable chemicals approach.

Focus should be made in particular on those areas where the REACH Regulation will not deliver (use as intermediates or for export), nano-like substances, or where the BREF could promote policy objectives on substitution e.g. candidate SVHC not yet subject to authorization or where the substances of concern are not otherwise restricted.

The key demands posed to ECHA were to deliver the scientific support and carry out the research on the above points (by checking its databases on registered substances / the CLP inventory). Substances for screening:

  1. Annex II of the IED provides a list of substances of concern to be screened, those included the following chemicals/groups: VOCs, metals, fine particulate matter, asbestos, chlorine, fluorine, arsenic, cyanides, PCCD/F, organohalogens, organophoshourous compounds, organotin, biocides and plant protection products,
  2. Annex II of the IED makes a specific link to “substances of concern”:
    a) substances identified in Annex X and the watchlist of the Water Framework Directive,
    b) candidate list SVHC or CoRAP (substances under evaluation),
    c) any substance covered in the 2020 Roadmap on Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC),
    d) substances under Annex VI for CLP,
    e) substances of concern identified by the ECHA experts groups on PBTs, EDCs, and nanomaterials,
  3. Substances which contribute to eutrophication (e.g. nitrates and phosphates),
  4. Substances which have an unfavourable influence on the oxygen balance.

Substances under point 1 and 2 are of the highest priority.

The ECHA database allows a filter of results for specific industrial sectors or end uses i.e. the sectors of use category (SU) and a descriptor list for process categories (PROC) through the PROC codes for uses in industrial processes. The filtering should enable an indication of where the chemicals are used and for what functional purpose for the industrial activity in question.

The screening should cover all IED activities, which are listed in Annex I of the directive. Priority should be given to industrial sectors where BREFs are currently under review / the Chemical industry sectors or for which the BREFs review started recently 2015/2016.

The EEB supports the elaboration of a horizontal Chemicals of Concern Substitution BREF (e.g. HAZ BREF) which would tackle the issue of use and production of SVHC in IED activities and propose BAT-C on how these could be substituted/reduced.

The EEB has done some pre-screening of the use of the SIN List SVHC on a few sectors subject to BREF reviews, by checking the REACH registration data:

The EEB promotes the substitution at source and use and production of Substances of (Very High) Concern in any IED activity. Our priority is those substances identified on the SIN 2.0 list and the Trade Union (ETUC) priority list which are not yet on the authorization list or which are restricted or used as intermediates.

Other relevant substances of concern are available on the SUBS PORT Substitution Support Portal

Considering recent experience in BREF reviews we seek the following information:

  • Information on the substitution of substances of concerns in: surface treatment with organic solvents, wood preservation with chemicals, organic chemicals production, textiles production and the production of foods, drinks and milk;
  • Case studies on implementation of 12 Green Chemistry Principles / Sustainable chemicals approach in industrial activities subject to BREF reviews
  • Case studies of IED activities which demonstrate the successful substitution of dangerous substances/substances of concern (or reduction in volumes thereof) as a risk prevention strategy without negative cross-media effects (examples should relate to the SIN 2.0 and Trade Union (ETUC) priority lists of chemicals likely to be banned or restricted in the future); 

Please provide information to BATSOC@eeb.org or submit information anonymously via the contact page.