Hazardous industrial chemicals in the IED (HAZBREF)

The HAZBREF isn’t one of the IED BREFs, but a project run by environmental authorities around the Baltic Sea (DE, EE, SE, PL, and coordinated by FI), and funded by the EU. Its ambition is to identify best practises on management of hazardous substances in industrial settings ,and to propose ways to integrate these findings in BREFs. 

To do this, the HAZBREF team looks at other regulatory frameworks in the EU (such as REACH and the Water Framework Directive) and at case studies from four industrial sectors in the participating countries linked to various BREFs: textiles (TXT), fertilisers (LVIC-AAF), polymers (POL, WGC) and surface treatments (STM, STS). 

The EEB has participated in HAZBREF workshops and contributed to papers and studies published by the HAZBREF team

The different reports prepared or published can be consulted on the HAZBREF webpage.

Hazardous industrial chemicals

Hazardous chemicals used in an industrial setting may cause problems in at least three ways: 

  • by exposing workers
  • by exposing users of the goods produced (when the hazardous chemicals are contained withing the goods) and 
  • by exposing the environment – air, water, soil. 

The IED provides that BATs are set, among others, on “the use of less hazardous substances” (IED Annex III, item 2). It reads “less”, not “fewer” or “lower amounts of”, although these would also be captured by the general obligation to eliminate or reduce pollution. 

Management of hazardous chemicals

A well-run company has a chemical management system in place: using modern tools, they centralise knowledge and action plans on the storage, use, (eco)toxicological properties and emissions of all chemicals, esp. the hazardous ones. Crucial instruments are safety and quality procedures as well as a chemical inventory. Recently updated BREFs prescribe such systems, but they have been commonplace and legally required in some countries for decades (e.g. in Germany). 

Information on hazard properties of substances and mixtures is available from ECHA’s website, (eco)toxicological consultants, the specialised literature and in the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided by the suppliers. The HAZBREF project has shown that unfortunately, many MSDSs are neither complete nor correct. 

Substitution of hazardous chemicals

In most cases, substitution of hazardous chemicals (i.e. their replacement with non-hazardous ones) is technically feasible at the cost of some R&D, communications and customer management efforts. Substitutes may be cheaper or more expensive than the original chemical, and they will have a better or worse, but most likely different set of properties. Substitution is often market-driven, e.g. by certification and labelling schemes. Many tools are available to industrial actors: 

  • online tools such as the Subsport and ChemSec Marketplace
  • technical information available on the market, from their suppliers and potential suppliers
  • most importantly: their technological knowledge and experience, and their willingness to take responsibility and innovate. 

Legal instruments

A crucial question is: what is a hazardous chemical? The IED (Art. 3 (18)) relies on the definition of hazardous chemical contained in the CLP legislation (Art. 3), which includes all CLP hazard classes, but is not limited to these. Rather, wherever a risk has been identified, a hazard must exist. The EEB has developed an analysis and explanation (see Downloads section) of the legal situation around the term “hazardous”. 

Generally, there is only little legal pressure to substitute specific hazardous chemicals. The flagship regulation on chemicals, the REACH legislation does not define “hazardous”, and it only aims – softly and slowly – at substituting a small subset of hazardous substances, the so-called SVHCs (Substances of Very High Concern, Art. 55). 

Legal instruments such as CLP, REACH and IED should act coherently and drive substitution using the handles at their disposal, while being given new ones where needed e.g. in the IED review process

If European legislation only has scattered tools to drive substitution, national legislation is often more stringent. As an example, the German Ordinance on Hazardous Chemicals (Gefahrstoffverordnung, GefStoffV) and its technical guidelines (TRGS) have obliged operators for years: 

  • to keep an inventory of hazardous substances;
  • to get expert advice if the own workforce is not sufficiently knowledgeable;
  • to investigate beyond the information contained in MSDS whenever needed;
  • to regularly evaluate the potential to substitute hazardous substances. 

The EEB encourages the European legislator to assess this legislation from Germany (and from other member states, as appropriate) and to level the European playing field by setting pragmatic legislation no lower than current German requirements. 

How you can contribute

Suppliers of non-hazardous chemicals are encouraged to display their offerings on ChemSec’s Marketplace. 

Actors from different European member states are encouraged to contact the EEB with knowledge on effective national legislations driving management and substitution of hazardous chemicals.


Jean-Luc Wietor, Senior Policy Officer for Industrial Production: Jean-luc.wietor@eeb.org

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