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Does it apply to hot-dip galvanizing, and what are the current happenings with the European RoHS and REACH? What does California's adopted RoHS plan include?

There has not been a lot of new information on the European legislation, Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), and the European chemical policy, Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), since this was discussed several years ago. Most recently, California, China, and some other countries are adopting their own versions of RoHS and REACH.

If you are not familiar with either of these regulations, here is a brief background. RoHS regulations became effective on July 1, 2006. RoHS is intended to eliminate or severely decrease the use of six hazardous materials in all products from automobiles to consumer electronics. RoHS restricts the use of the following six substances: lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). The objective is to reduce the concentrations to levels that will make handling safer for the health of those in the recycling industry. The maximum concentration values (MCV) that have been adopted are:

  • 0.1% by homogeneous material weight for lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, PBB, and PBDE
  • 0.01% by homogeneous material weight for cadmium

Most galvanized steel products are outside the scope of RoHS. Some galvanized products, specifically fasteners, that enter supply chains found that the absence of a lead exemption proved to be problematic. Without an exemption, the product would have to meet the default limit of 0.1% lead. However, on May 2010, the EU Technical Adaptation Committee (TAC) for RoHS in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) formally adopted an exemption for lead content in galvanized steel. The exemption reads, Lead is an alloying element in steel for machining purposes and in galvanized steel containing up to 0.35% lead by weight. This means as long as the lead is less than 0.35%, the lead in the galvanized coating would not be affected by this regulation. 

The latest news on RoHS was that a Recast Directive was published in July 2011. The key elements of the new Directive are: 

  • A gradual extension of the rules to all electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), cables and spare parts, with full compliance by 2019 
  • A review of the list of banned substances by July 2014, and periodically thereafter 
  • Clearer, more transparent rules for granting exemptions from the substance ban 
  • Improved coherence with REACH 
  • Clarification of important definitions 
  • CE (Conformitee Europeenne) marking denoting compliance with European norms reserved for electronic products that also respect RoHS requirements

Most galvanized steel products are exempt from RoHS due to the nature of the products produced by the industry and their end use. For example, beams for bridges, poles for lighting, and guardrails for roads would be exempt. Batch hot-dip galvanized steel or general galvanized steel is rarely used in the type of electronics being targeted by the RoHS directive, however, there are some types of galvanized products that may fall under the directive. 

For example, a galvanized frame used to hold electronic parts would qualify under RoHS and would have to meet the requirements.

REACH is a European chemicals policy that has been in effect since June 1, 2007. The purpose of REACH is: 

  • To provide a high level of protection of human health and the environment from the use of chemicals
  • To make the people who place chemicals in the market responsible for understanding and managing the risks associated with their use 
  • To allow the free movement of substances on the EU market
  • To enhance innovation in and the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry
  • To promote the use of alternative methods for assessment of the hazardous properties of substances

REACH affects:

  • Manufacturer/Importer manufacture or import a substance on its own or in a preparation of 1 ton or more per year
  • Producer/Importer or supplier of articles produce or import articles
  • Distributor (including retailers) store and place on the market a substance, on its own or in a preparation
  • Downstream User use a substance, either on its own or in a preparation, in the course of industrial or professional activities (for example: formulation, dilution, repackaging, spraying, and painting)

Most galvanizers are considered to be downstream users of substances and preparations. The galvanizing industry must ensure all the substances and preparations used in the galvanizing process are properly registered under REACH with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The EGGA put together a draft guidance document in 2007 to help determine if a company is a manufacturer of a substances, and to check that the suppliers used are registered as manufacturers/importers in the EU. In the guidance document, EGGA strongly recommended that the galvanizing industry consider ash, dross and filter dusts as wastes for the purposes of REACH.

Hot-dip galvanized items are considered as articles. Registration and authorization in REACH is not required. Notification to others in the supply chain of the presence of chemicals of concern is not required if the chemical is present at less than 0.1%. Zinc is not a chemical of concern, but lead, cadmium, and chromium are. For hot- dip galvanizers, REACH is not required; however, suppliers to galvanizers may need to register their products with the ECHA.

California RoHS and REACH

The California RoHS requires the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to adopt regulations that prohibit an electronic device from being sold or offered for sale in this state (if it) is prohibited from being sold or offered for sale in the European Union under Directive 2002/95/EC due to the presence of heavy metals. This regulation is known as the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (EWRA). The EWRA applies only to a covered electronic device. As of December 2005, DTSC had identified eight categories of covered electronic devices in its regulations.

  1. Cathode ray tube containing devices (CRT devices) 
  2. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) 
  3. Computer monitors containing cathode ray tubes 
  4. Laptop computers with liquid crystal display (LCD) 
  5. LCD containing desktop 
  6. Televisions containing cathode ray tubes 
  7. Televisions containing liquid crystal display (LCD) screens
  8. Plasma televisions

These listings apply only to devices with a video display screen four inches or larger, measured diagonally. Electronic devices that do not fall into any of the above listed categories are not subject to the RoHS law. 

Therefore, galvanized steel does not fall into the category covered under the EWRA. 

California also has a regulation similar to REACH. It is known as the California Green Chemistry Initiative (CGCI) and is a six-part initiative that establishes a framework for regulating toxic substances based upon life cycle thinking and green chemistry principles. Two parts, AB 1879 and SB 509, were signed into law on September 2008. AB 1879 is known as the Hazardous Materials and Toxic Substances Evaluation and Regulation. This regulation would help to identify the chemicals of greatest concern in consumer products, evaluate their hazard traits and alternatives, and establish regulatory measures, including restricting or banning the use of dangerous chemicals. SB 509 establishes a Toxic Information Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse will receive information from numerous sources throughout the world and create a virtual site for chemical data, including effects on health and the environment. In addition to building one place to identify potential hazards, the Clearinghouse will also provide the initial steps for identifying potentially safer substitutes. 

The bills were scheduled to go into regulatory effect on January 1, 2011, but California has postponed the initiative indefinitely while the Green Ribbon Science Panel is reconvened to address concerns raised by stakeholders and last minute changes to the final draft. This comprehensive program is more expansive than the existing federal law that regulates chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The CGCI regulation will be one to monitor closely if it goes under effect. Lead and cadmium are considered priority chemicals that pose the greatest threat to public health or the environment.

Besides California, the EU regulations have also influenced several countries to develop their own RoHS and REACH regulations. China, Korea, Turkey, and Russia have also developed their own form of these regulations and in some cases their regulations are stricter than the EUs.

Galvanized steel is not directly affected by either RoHS or REACH, but is something that should be followed closely in case the regulations spread to other areas. The new regulations that California have developed proves we should be aware other states may follow the trends established in Europe.

Visit the following websites for more information on RoHS, REACH, and regulations in California:

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