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.

Industrial activities regulated by the IED / BREFs

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.

What are the BREFs supposed to tackle? 

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 IIand 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.

The EEB’s position

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.

Industrial activities for screening

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:

Your contribution… 

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 or submit information anonymously via the contact page.

The overall safety of industrial activities is of the utmost importance. Production processes involving chemicals that, should something ever go wrong, could have a devastating and tragic effect on local communities must be properly and effectively regulated. To reduce the risk of such accidents ever occurring, the EEB demands the highest standards of protection and planning for all industrial activities. 

A history of industrial disasters and the European ‘Seveso’ laws

The Seveso III Directive (2012/18/EU) provides the legal basis for the prevention and control of major accidents involving dangerous chemicals. The directive was revised mainly because of changes in the classification of chemicals, and is the third revision following lessons learned from fatal disasters in industrial sectors in Europe and beyond. The Seveso III framework applies to more than 10,000 establishments where dangerous substances can be used or are stored above the volume thresholds, mainly the (petro)chemical, logistics and metal refining sectors. In most cases there is an overlap among Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) regulated activities therefore major accidents prevention issues are relevant for certain BREF reviews.

Every time an industrial accident happens, society faces severe consequences and high costs. In 1976 an explosion occurred at the ICMESA chemical plant located close to Seveso, Italy, producing intermediate compounds for the chemicals industry including the herbicide 2,4,5 trichlorophenol (TCP). An impurity of the production process caused a deadly damage, as 2,3,7,8 tetracholorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), commonly referred to as dioxin was released. Within days, about 3,300 animals (mostly rabbits and poultry) were found dead, and about 80,000 animals had to be slaughtered to prevent TCDD spreading through the food chain. Pregnant women in the area were advised to undergo abortions because of the risk posed to developing foetuses. A major cleanup followed, involving the removal of a 14 cm thick layer of toxic soil that had to be disposed of in special waste treatment facilities. The total amount of contaminated material was estimated about 280,000m³.

The EU adopted the first Seveso Directive 82/501/CEE isx years later, on 24 June 1982. The Indian Bhopal disaster, which is often cited as the world’s worst major accident known to date, followed just two years later. Around 32 tons of the toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide Corporation (DOW) pesticide factory. Official figures show that 5,000 people were killed as a direct result of this release. However, such figures have been widely questioned, and Greenpeace has established that at least 20,000 deaths can be directly attributed to the disaster. Even this figure fails to consider the estimated 150,000 victims that suffered, or in many cases still suffer, from directly-related chronic health problems such as psychological conditions, neurological disabilities, cancer and birth defects. The Bhopal Medical Appeal continues to campaign for the victims of Bhopal, and their website contains more information on the disaster. 

Following the Sandoz accident (1986, Switzerland), that contaminated the Rhine with dangerous chemicals leading to the death of millions of fish, policy makers were triggered to amend and expand the framework further.

In 2000, the Baia Mare cyanide spill (Romania) killed 80% of all aquatic life in certain areas and contaminated the drinking water supply of over 2.5 million people. Another more recent example in the extractive industries was the The Kolontár Red Mud disaster (Hungary, 2010), where a tailing pond of high amount of toxic sludge from alumina production broke and flooded the surrounding area. These activities are covered in the Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries (MWEI BREF).

In 2001, the explosion of a fertilizer manufacturing factory in Toulouse (France) killed 30 people and injured 10,000, according to official figures. The overall costs for the material loss was estimated at about €2.5 billion. In 2015, the explosion and fire in an oil storage facility in Buncefield (UK) injured 43 people and led to overall costs of more than €1 billion. “Luckily” the blast happened on a Sunday morning at 6:00 am, when no workers were present. Even industrial accidents which do not result in any human casualties, like the fire in a glues and resins factory in Haguenau (France, 2000), resulted in economic losses of more than €15 million. 

The evaluations conducted by the European Commission for the review of the Seveso II Directive concluded that the current framework has been instrumental in reducing the likelihood and consequences of major accidents. However, the EEA found that during the past decades the overall number of incidents remained stable, with about 28 accidents each year – see page 114 of the report Mapping the impacts of natural hazards and technological accidents in Europe (EEA). Furthermore, the statistics do not show a complete picture because many industrial accidents, occurring in the transportation of dangerous substances, are excluded from the scope.

The review leading to the Seveso III Directive was launched in 2008. The EEB was the only eNGO involved in the preparatory work that led to the new proposal. Due to limited resources, the EEB was only partially involved and represented by experts in the “technical work” in ISPRA, which discussed options on scope adaptation to the CLP classification system of dangerous substances. A stakeholder consultation meeting was held in Brussels on 10 November 2009. Around 50 industry lobby organisations and the EEB submitted written comments. Overall, the industry wanted to continue with “business as usual”.

For more information on the Seveso III Directive please see the following:

Contribution of industry regulated by the IED / BREFs

The major accidents mentioned above took place as a result of industrial activities covered by the scope of the BREF documents. The majority of IED installations, which are also covered under the Seveso III framework, are (petro-)chemical installations, biocides, pesticides and fertilisers production, processing of metals and in general storage of dangerous substances on sites. Certain activities, such as waste management from extractive industries, are also covered by the BREF developed under the Mining Waste Directive (MWEI BREF).

What are the BREFs supposed to tackle?

Under the IED framework, the adoption of measures for the prevention of accidents and for the limitation of their consequences is part of the general principles governing the basic obligations of the operator (IED Article 11). It lays down a requirement that “the necessary measures are taken to prevent accidents and limit their consequences”.

Plant operators have to include such measures when applying for a permit for their activities. The IED explicitly requires the prevention of environmental impacts from any “substances and mixtures which have proved to possess carcinogenic or mutagenic properties which may affect in or via the aquatic environment”, “persistent hydrocarbons and persistent and bio-accumulable organic toxic substances, cyanides, metals and compounds, biocides and pesticides, organohalogens etc”. It is therefore an open non-exhaustive list of pollutant groups. The EEB considers this to refer to the relevant substances that meet any of the properties of a Substance of Very High Concern as per Article 57 of the REACH Regulation – see [Pollutants of Concern].

One of the basic BAT criteria is to use “less hazardous substances” (point 2 of Annex III) and the “need to prevent or reduce to a minimum the overall impact of the emissions on the environment and the risks to it”. The same requirement is found in the essential criteria for determining BAT, stating that there is a need to prevent accidents and to minimize the consequences for the environment (point 11 of Annex II of the IED). The BREF review rules confirm that issues regarding environmental accident prevention and the identification of techniques that will prevent or limit consequences of accidents and incidents have to be addressed.

Member states shall also take into account the risk of accidents in the different industrial sectors when setting up systems and programmes of environmental inspections, including the frequency of site visits.

The EEB has advocated in the Seveso III Directive review, and in all BREF reviews covering the use or production of dangerous substances, that better synergies with substitution objectives of dangerous substances and BAT are needed to promote cleaner and safer industrial production. This includes the following elements for the operators of Seveso III establishments:

  • An obligation to fully apply best available techniques (BAT) as set under the Industrial Emissions Directive.
  • An obligation to regularly perform independent safety studies.
  • An obligation for producers to prevent or reduce the presence of dangerous substances, including through their elimination or substitution via design changes, materials or components which would not require any of the materials or substances. The elaboration and implementation of a “substitution plan” as required under REACH authorisation for producers of these dangerous substances should be promoted.
  • Minimal specifications of all the relevant hazards that need to be considered (operational hazards, human/organisational aspects, external hazards including effects of climate change, cumulative effects )

During the review of the Seveso III Directive with the European Parliament, the EEB secured that member states “shall ensure that the establishment operates according to best available techniques, in particular in relation to safety aspects, pursuant to Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control), without any derogations.

A further amendment was introduced through Annex II point 3b. This required the installation and operating measures to be “in accordance with Best Available Techniques” pursuant to the IED.

The EEB aimed to ensure that Seveso establishments operate according to BAT as stated under the reference documents at all times. The exceptions, or ‘derogations’, granted under to plants under the IED if the use of certain techniques would lead to disproportionate costs, should never be allowed in relation to BAT safety aspects. High costs for operators should not be an acceptable excuse for avoiding the implementation of risk prevention techniques.

Regrettably, Member States and the European Commission were radically opposed to this requirement, which they considered as an extension of the IED scope and undermining of the derogation clause via the backdoor of Seveso III. The final text now only refers to “best practices”, which has no legal meaning.

This is a sad example of government and European Commission incoherence. On one hand they argue for the need to strengthen the application of BAT to create a level playing field; on the other, when it comes to high-risk activities involving dangerous substances, they do not show the necessary ambition.

The EEB’s position in short:

Successful substitution of dangerous substances as a risk prevention measure should be incorporated in 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.

Unfortunately, these crucial issues have been completely overlooked. This is even more regrettable because the revised Seveso III Directive still requires the operator to implement “best practices” (another word for BAT).

Relevant BREFs currently under review are the following:

  • Surface Treatment using organic Solvents (STS BREF)
  • (Hazardous) Waste Treatment (WT BREF)
  • (Hazardous) Waste Incineration (WI BREF)
  • Other Chemical BREFs, such as the LVOC BREF
  • Management of Waste from Extractive Industries (MWEI BREF)
  • Emissions from Storage (ESF BREF)

Your contribution…

The EEB advocates for dedicated BAT conclusions which focus on techniques which are most effective in the prevention of environmental accidents and, where this is not possible, for the decrease of their frequency and the minimisation of any impacts related to their occurrence and effects. A key factor for achieving this is to promote the substitution at source of the use and production of Substances of (Very High) Concern (see the Substances of Concern page) as the most effective risk prevention strategy.

Considering its recent experience in BREF reviews, the EEB seeks the following information:

  • Information on BAT on accidents prevention/management for the different IED-regulated industrial sectors, with focus on the sectors of: Surface treatment with organic solventsWood preservation with chemicalsOrganic chemicals productionWaste treatment including (co-)incineration (hazardous waste handling) and coal and lignite mining, as well as information contained in the Emissions From Storage BREF (EFS BREF).
  • For sectors with relevance to the Seveso Directive, the provision of relevant information included in the safety reports (Seveso III Directive, Annex II point 3 b) / and Major Accidents Prevention Policy (MAPP) as well as safety distances.
  • Case studies on IED activities which demonstrate successful substitution of dangerous substances (or reduction in volumes) as a risk prevention strategy without negative cross-media effects (examples should relate to SIN 2.0 list of chemicals likely to be banned or restricted in the future).
  • On the WT BREF: provisions linked to safety measures and gas detectors e.g. for HCN or H2S in case of waste oxidation/reduction (BAT 77), as well as provisions concerning electrostatic and flammability hazards in case of waste fuel production from hazardous waste (BAT 121).
  • On the WI BREF: good practice examples of BAT 10. Elements to be taken into account for the development of a plan for the prevention, detection and control of fire hazards, and additional BAT on input quality control, storage and segregation of wastes require the operator to have sufficient knowledge of waste (chemical and physical) properties and handle the different streams according to risk assessment results.

Please provide information to or submit information anonymously via the contact page.

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