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‘Reprieve in sight’ for lead-acid as proposed EU ban shelved

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 00:00 -- John Shepherd
Johann-Friedrich Dempwolff

Lead battery makers are poised to win a reprieve from European proposals that threatened to kill off the industry by imposing an in-effect ban on the use of four lead compounds, BEST Battery Briefing has learned.

Industry leaders had warned thousands of battery jobs risked being axed in Europe and ‘exported’ to competitors if the European Commission moved to add the compounds— all of which are “irreplaceable in lead battery production”— to the EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) authorisation list.

However, the Brussels-based Association of European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers— Eurobat— has told BBB it understands the Commission is not now recommending the inclusion of lead monoxide, lead tetroxide, pentalead tetraoxide sulfate and tetralead trioxide sulfate on the REACH list.

Eurobat said “we understand the Commission advises not to include lead compounds on the REACH authorisation list this year and EU member states will vote on this, probably in April”.

Eurobat president Johann-Friedrich Dempwolff (pictured) told a meeting in Brussels last week: “No single technology will be able to answer all future energy storage demands.”

Dempwolff, who unveiled Eurobat’s ‘election manifesto’ recommendations for the incoming European Parliament (to be elected in May) and new Commission, said: “Europe must take the lead in sustainable battery design and production… and establish a clear regulatory framework with no overlaps and contradictions.”

A Eurobat spokesperson told BBB: “A proposal has now been made by the Commission that does not include the four battery lead compounds, as these will be dealt with by a review of the existing EU-wide binding occupational exposure limits designed to protect workers.”

“The review of the occupational exposure limits will be progressed by the European Chemicals Agency later this year,” the spokesperson said. However, this process will take several years to complete.”

Eurobat had told the Commission previously that, during the manufacturing phase of lead-based batteries, “all four compounds are transformed into other substances with only trace amounts (<0.1%) present in the finished battery”. Lead-based batteries “are sealed units that operate in Europe in a closed loop with almost 100% collected and recycled at the end of life”.

Regulatory affairs director of the International Lead Association, Steve Binks, told BBB: “We are encouraged that Commission and member states recognised that updating EU workplace exposure limits is a better short term action than requiring battery companies to seek authorisation to continue using the lead compounds through the REACH process.”

“Encouragingly, they also recognised the effectiveness of already existing EU legislation in reducing environmental emissions of lead,” Binks said. “The update of the EU binding occupational exposure limit for lead will deliver benefits for workers in many industries, not just the battery value chain,  but it will be over three years before this is implemented in member states.”

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