End Europes Asbestos Derogation!
The manufacture, marketing and use of asbestos were banned in Europe as of January 1, 2005. There was an exemption to the EU prohibitions which allowed the import of chrysotile asbestos-containing diaphragms for existing electrolysis cells. This highly specific derogation was included so that a German chlorine production plant (Dow Deutschland Anlagengesellschaft mbH) and a Swedish hydrogen production plant (AarhusKarlshamn Sweden AB/ AAK) could continue operating until they reach the end of their service life, or until suitable asbestos-free substitutes become available, whichever is the sooner.
A decade later, under pressure from Dow Chemical, the European Commission and the body in charge of REACH2 implementation, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), is considering the continuation of the exemption until and possibly after 2025. A draft opinion recently adopted by the ECHAs Socio-economic Analysis Committee (see: Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) Opinion on an Annex XV dossier proposing restrictions on Chrysotile) indicated that the derogation introduced in Annex XVII of REACH could be extended to permit the import to Europe not only of diaphragms containing asbestos fibers, but also asbestos fibers needed to maintain them.3
In defence of their position, the Commission and ECHA are alleging that the relevant legal text can be interpreted in such a way as to allow the import of asbestos fibers; both bodies are downplaying the risks to European workers. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) disagrees with the Commissions interpretation of the text and argues that according to a recent decision of the European Court of Justice (see: Judgment of the Court (Second Chamber) of 7 March 2013), the REACH derogations are exceptional and must be interpreted strictly.4
We believe that the Commission and ECHA are wrong in both their interpretation of the law and their belief that the asbestos hazard can be fully controlled.
IBAS is also strongly opposed to the extension of the use of asbestos diaphragms until 2025 and calls on the EU Commission and EU Member States to immediately terminate the asbestos derogation which is in contradiction with EU demands for a worldwide ban on asbestos. Asbestos-free electrolysis methods are available which would be suitable for both AAK and Dow. In addition, Dow has recently undertaken a commitment with the German authorities to stop importing asbestos fibers and asbestos-containing diaphragms after 2017. There is therefore no reason for extending the derogation until 2025 or after.
IBAS invites partnering organizations and interested citizens to submit their views on these matters to the ECHAs public consultation which has a looming deadline of February 9, 2015. 5
January 21, 2015
1 This text is based on comments by the European Trade Union Confederation submitted to a previous ECHA public consultation on chrysotile.
2 REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals
3 ECHA Annex XV Restriction Report - Amendment to a Restriction. January 14, 2014.
4 Judgment of the Court (Second Chamber) March 7, 2013 in Case C. [English language version]. http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=134608&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=263808
5 Input to the ECHA consultation on these matters can be submitted via the website: https://comments.echa.europa.eu/comments_cms/SeacDraftOpinionChrysotile.aspx