ECHA has received over 1 000 notifications from industrial sites using chromium trioxide in chrome plating and surface treatment in the EU. This follows two European Commission decisions in December 2020 granting authorisation to use the chemical until September 2024. Enforcement authorities can now carry out inspections as necessary.
Notifications from 1 026 sites across Europe submitted by May 2021 confirm that chromium trioxide is still widely used in functional or hard chrome plating and surface treatment. The annual usage is estimated to be 7 000 tonnes. The substance of very high concern was placed on the Authorisation List in 2013 and its use has needed a specific authorisation in the EU since 2017.
By notifying the uses to ECHA, companies confirm that they follow the conditions for use set in the authorisation decisions granted to their suppliers. As part of the conditions, they must inform ECHA by the end of 2021 how their workers are exposed to chromium trioxide. This information will help companies to protect their workers even better by minimising their exposure to the carcinogen.
“This is an important step to further reduce exposure of workers to chromium trioxide across Europe. These notifications of use will help European authorities carry out joint enforcement on functional chrome plating and surface treatment,” says Peter van der Zandt, ECHA’s Director of Risk Management.
Given the increase in the number of notifications, ECHA has updated its downstream user notifications web page. It now contains searchable, public information from over 3 000 notifications covering 14 substances.
REACH allows companies to apply for an authorisation to continue or start using and placing chemicals included in the Authorisation List on the market for a limited time. The authorisation, granted by the European Commission, can cover the uses of the applying company but also their customers (downstream users). Those companies that use a chemical based on an authorisation granted to an applicant up the supply chain, have to notify their use to ECHA within three months of the first delivery of the chemical taking place after the authorisation decision.
The European Commission granted authorisations for five uses of chromium trioxide in December 2020, including functional chrome plating and surface treatment. The current authorisations expire in September 2024, but authorisation holders can re-apply by submitting a review report to ECHA by March 2023.
Chrome plating and surface treatment are done in industrial settings, exposing workers to the harmful chemical that can cause cancer. These uses add a protective coating to metal parts and products and enhance the strength of the surface as well as wear and corrosion resistance. The treated surface does not contain chromium trioxide.
The European Parliament took legal action against the Commission in March 2021 to annul the decision, saying it is in breach of EU regulation. The legal process is ongoing.