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REACH: The use of chromic acid will still be possible even after the “sunset date”, although there will be no timely authorisations for chromic acid

The ZVO does not expect any decision on the applications for authorisation that have been submitted until the “sunset date”.

The “sunset date”, i.e. the date at which chromium trioxide may be no longer used or marketed without valid authorisation as a result of REACH, is 21 September 2017. Germany’s Zentralverband Oberflächentechnik e.V. (ZVO, the “Central Association for Surface Technology”) assumes that no decisions will be taken before then on most of the authorisation applications submitted. However, the use of chromic acid will still be possible from the sunset date until authorisation is granted.

The European Chemicals Directive on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) represents a challenge in terms of electroplating and surface technology, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. Time is running out in the EU on the free use of chromium trioxide, which plays an important role in chromium plating: From 21 September 2017 on, chromium trioxide may not be used or marketed without valid authorisation. This also applies to stocks of it, as well as to the aqueous solution of chromium trioxide, often referred to as chromic acid.

The ECHA recommends the authorisation of six applications

Numerous consortia of manufacturers and users have submitted applications for the authorisation of chromium trioxide. In the meantime, the ECHA committees (European Chemical Agencies) “RAC” and “SEAC” have advocated the approval of six applications. According to their final recommendations, the risks to human health from the continued use of chromium trioxide in the EU are greatly overshadowed by the overall benefits of continued use.

If the European Commission orientates itself towards the current recommendations, it can be assumed that the following periods will be specified before the first reviews of authorisation:

·         Formulation and preparation of mixtures: seven years

·         Functional chromium plating: seven years

·         Functional chromium plating with decorative character: four years

·         Surface treatments, including conversion layers for aerospace applications: seven years

·         Surface treatments, including conversion layers for applications in various industries: four years

·         Passivation of tin-plated steel (electrolytic tinplate, ETP): four years

The ECHA committees have recommended a period of twelve years for the use of chromic acid in the context of plating on plastics (ABS etching) until the first review of authorisation.

Users must report authorisation numbers and quantities procured

Downstream users, i.e. operators of electroplating plants must report, via the ECHA website, the authorisation number of the respective authorisation, as well as the likely annual quantities procured no later than 90 days after the granting of authorisation. It is important to ensure that all the conditions stated in the official letter of authorisation are met at the plant.

Nothing will change for consumers of chromic acid-based surfaces if the EU Commission follows the recommendations of the ECHA committees. From 21 September 2017, they will be able to produce, for example, hard chromium surfaces for at least another seven years and high-gloss chromium surfaces for another four years without any restriction.

Use of chromic acid possible during the interim period

In June 2017, the EU Commission will put an initial application for authorisation from a consortium on the agenda. It is expected that the first draft for the granting of authorisation will be made available to the EU Member States at this time. Optimistic estimates suggest it will take another three months until there is a vote on the final granting of the authorisation, for which a majority in the Committee of the Member States and in the EU Parliament will be required. Therefore, it is expected that authorisation will only be legally approved after the “sunset date” on 21 September 2017.

Chromium trioxide, as well as mixtures and preparations containing chromium trioxide, may be supplied and used without restriction between the “sunset date” and the date of legally binding authorisation. However, this only relates to those applications for which authorisation has been applied.

Operators may refer to ongoing applications for authorisation

“In the meantime, operators of galvanic plants may refer to the ongoing applications for authorisation made by their suppliers or authorisation consortia in the event that their supervisory authorities have any inquiries concerning authorisation”, states Christoph Matheis, ZVO's chief executive officer. These can be seen on the Echa website.