HANOVER, Germany—The increasing regulatory focus on the safety of chemicals used in rubber products and manufacturing processes is now impacting the industry globally, according to officials of Rhein Chemie Additives, a Lanxess A.G. business unit.
An extension of the EU's REACH chemical safety regulations to include chemicals supplied in quantities of less than 100 tons since May 31, 2008, is already affecting suppliers and end users, said Anno Borkowsky, president of Rhein Chemie Additives.
He said companies throughout the supply chain now have to decide whether to bear the cost of registration or to reformulate.
“The major concern for the customer, as it is for us, is availability of materials,” said Borkowsky, noting that about 90 percent of Rhein Chemie's portfolio is below 100 tons and below 10 tons in the case of many of the active ingredients used in its products.
“We have projects running for many years to make sure that our suppliers either get REACH registration or we get it for them if it is worthwhile,” he added. We are also very actively telling our customers that they need to look into this. But I think everyone is now pretty much aware and are actively reformulating.”
Highlighting the need for urgency, Borkowsky cited the case of ethylene thiourea (ETU)—a curing accelerator classified as a candidate substance of very high concern but still widely used in chloroprene rubber compounds.
“There is real pressure (on ETU) from the ECHA (European Chemicals Agency) so there is no way out any more,” he said, adding that other significant additives are also at risk of being banned by the EU's Helsinki-based watchdog.
“With REACH, people tend to think only of substances in the product, but they also have to think about substances in the process,” added Philipp Junge, head of rubber additives at Rhein Chemie. “In the factories there are a lot of solvents, a lot of processing aids that have to be REACH compliant.”
In China, moves by the Beijing government to tackle the country's pollution crisis could lead to a major shake-out within the Chinese chemicals sector: “The government is now finally taking a real stance against the pollution threat,” Borkowsky said. “There will for sure be a lot of companies disappearing.”
The clamp-down in China presents an opportunity for European-based chemicals suppliers, as competitors could disappear, but also holds risks because of the potential loss of important suppliers, which Borkowsky said could greatly affect mid- to small-sized companies in China that cannot afford to upgrade their equipment and environmental standards.
Another factor is that China is now very strict about not allowing companies to be swamped in debt. Borkowsky said Rhein Chemie is managing the situation by auditing suppliers to see which companies will be able to stay in business.
“This is of real high concern to us,” he said. “These are rubber chemical suppliers that supply our broad portfolio and this is something we have to watch carefully, especially in the additives business.”