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Article related to: People and perspectives
Know your chemicals, know your customers
The performance coatings business area at Dutch multinational AkzoNobel has 25 years of experience in finding safer alternatives to potentially hazardous chemicals used in industrial paints.
"We have taken stock of all the materials we use and analysed them. We have checked them against the criteria laid down in Article 57(a-e)* of REACH, which includes the properties of substances to be included in the Authorisation List. These substances can be, for example, carcinogenic, PBTs or vPvBs," says Dr Luc Turkenburg, Director of R&D Services and Regulatory Affairs.
| Dr Luc Turkenburg. |
All materials that might fit the criteria at AkzoNobel have been put on a specific ‘watch list'. "We call them our priority substances. We have been investigating how much we use them, in what formulation and whether there are safer alternatives available. In fact, the number of substances of very high concern (SVHCs) that we use in our products is low, and we work continuously to eliminate them."
Some examples where SVHCs at AkzoNobel have been replaced are lead pigments and phthalates.
"For the lead pigments, we knew that there were alternatives available. By the end of 2010, we decided to take out all lead pigments from all our paints, not only in Europe but throughout the world. As for the phthalates, we started looking for alternatives in 2008 and we had identified a few. Although phthalates are not a big substance group in my company, we were able to replace them all by 2011. In general, our policy is to replace hazardous substances in the products where technically possible," Dr Turkenburg explains.
The extensive inventory of the chemicals in use has helped the Dutch company to stay one step ahead of the legislation. "We know very well what we use and what the current status with SVHCs is".
Applying for authorisation for a specific use in aeroplanes
There is one SVHC used in a very specific case where no better replacement has yet been found. The substance is strontium chromate and it is used as the first layer of paint for the construction of aeroplanes.
"Such constructions, like the fuel tanks, will only been seen once during the lifecycle of an aeroplane. When the wings are in place and the tank inside, no one will go back and check whether the paint on the tank is in good shape. It just needs to be. We are dealing here with very high demands from our customers and talking about 30-years' warranty," Dr Turkenburg says.
The company has searched for alternatives for strontium chromate since 1989 and has managed to replace the chemical in all of their other products. "We replaced the substance in the paints for tractors, trucks, buses and harvesters. The specific, technically demanding use for the aeroplane was the only case where we could not find an alternative solution. I'm glad that REACH offers a temporary solution for these cases. If you have a solid case, you can apply for authorisation as we will."
To prepare the application, AkzoNobel joined a consortium which represents the manufacturer, all the formulators of the paint in Europe and a number of end users – including the big airline companies. "It is likely that AkzoNobel will be the one applying for authorisation in 2015 – although this has not yet been decided. We are in the middle of the supply chain, so the application would cover our own uses as well as the uses of our downstream users. We make use of a specialist company to help us in creating the application, to see that the right uses are mentioned and that our customers agree with those," Luc Turkenburg mentions, and continues, "I'm confident that we will be able to cover all the relevant uses. We know and talk to our customers. In addition, it helps that aerospace coatings are a very specific field".
Out with the old, in with the new
Making sure that non-hazardous chemicals are used in new products is driving innovation at AkzoNobel.
REACH has changed the way the company looks at new raw materials and ingredients. "All new materials are taken to our laboratory and tested to see whether they fall under the SVHC criteria. In many cases, we will already in the beginning decide which material we will look at further and which we will not," Dr Turkenburg highlights.
While doing the inventory of chemicals, it became apparent that most of the SVHCs were present in very old products. "We came across substances that we were not aware of. We have replaced those and at the same time retired some of our old products and developed new ones based on chemicals with better profiles. I consider this innovation as well".
Substitution pays off
REACH aims to better protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals. This aim is also shared at AkzoNobel.
"We need to move away from the materials we don't want to expose our colleagues or customers to. I'm a chemist, so I know that some substances really have a bad profile. We should continue with our efforts to replace those," Luc Turkenburg says.
Finding alternatives and changing products does, however, require research resources." A part of your laboratory capacity will be focusing on replacement rather than on completely new product development. This is a cost. However, the ultimate benefit is that you end up with new and safer products. This is not bad for the economy".
* Substances meeting the criteria for classification as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction category 1A or 1B in accordance with Commission Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 (CMR substances); and substances which are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB) according to REACH (Annex XIII).
AkzoNobel is a Dutch company producing decorative paints, performance coatings and speciality chemicals. It has activities in more than 80 countries and employs approximately 50 000 people. Their headquarters are in Amsterdam.
The performance coatings business of AkzoNobel produces paints, for example, for the automotive industry and ships as well as protective coatings for big constructions such as oil platforms. Under REACH, the performance coatings activities of AkzoNobel fall under the roles of formulator, downstream user and importer.
Interview by Hanna-Kaisa Torkkeli
Top image: AkzoNobel
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