MEPs flag potentially hazardous substances

07 June 2010

Some substances, including halogenated flame retardants and PVC, should undergo further assessments for safe use in electrical and electronic equipment, said Environment Committee MEPs.

The list of substances banned by the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive should apply to all such equipment, unless specifically excluded. One such exclusion could be for renewable energy generation. Plans to recast this directive are to be put to a plenary vote in July.

Some substances can pose health or environmental risks during the life of an electrical or electronic device, or when it is dumped or processed as waste. The EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), Directive has a global impact, since it applies to goods imported from third world countries as well as those produced in the EU. Furthermore, much EU e-waste is processed in developing countries, often in sub-standard conditions. The committee approved its legislative report on the proposed recast of this Directive was approved in the Environment Committee, with 55 votes in favour, one against, and two abstentions.

MEPs called for further evaluation for a number of substances that are not currently restricted, including halogenated flame retardants and PVC.

Jill Evans (Greens/EFA, UK), the MEP guiding this legislation through Parliament, commented: "I am glad that, despite heavy pressure from the chemical industry, the Environment Committee has voted for certain problematic substances to be highlighted for further review and a possible ban."

Any consideration of substances for possible restriction should be carried out under the responsibility of the European Commission, using the ‘delegated acts’ procedure, but the European Parliament or Member States should also be able to propose substances to be examined. Furthermore, the assessment criteria should include the substance's potential health and environmental impact, said the committee.

MEPs voted in favour of an ‘open scope’, meaning that all electrical and electronic material would be covered by the legislation, unless specifically excluded. This is designed to achieve greater legal clarity than is afforded by the current rules, which take the opposite approach. MEPs also recommended that certain areas be excluded from the Directive's scope, including, inter alia, renewable energy generation, certain large-scale installations and industrial tools, and material for military purposes and vehicles. They suggested that the European Commission could propose further exclusions within a transitional period of 18 months after the recast Directive enters into force. Exclusions would be subject to review in 2014.

The MEPs called for a ban on nanosilver and carbon nanotubes, and said other electrical and electronic material containing nanomaterials should be labelled, and that the manufacturers should be obliged to provide safety data to the European Commission. Parliament is currently scheduled to vote in July on the Environment Committee recommendations for recasting the RoHS Directive. The Environment Committee is also to vote on the related Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive later this month, with a plenary vote also to follow in July.

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