Highways Magazine examines what impact a proposed ban on lead chromate (the yellow pigment in road markings) in May 2015 could have on the sector.
The use of paints and coatings containing lead chromate pigments in road marking coatings and sign paints may be banned in Europe from next May, under the EU’s REACH Regulation (EC 1907/2006 on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals).
REACH has as its primary aim the protection of human health and the environment from the risks of chemicals, whilst enhancing the competitiveness and innovation of the EU chemicals industry.
REACH requires industry to show that the uses of chemical substances are safe. Although focused primarily on manufacturers and importers of chemicals, REACH will have a significant effect on downstream companies, including those that use coatings.
Under REACH, those more hazardous substances are controlled either by Restriction or Authorisation. The difference between the two is that Restriction allows all uses of the substance to continue except for certain specified uses. Authorisation is a mirror of this, banning all uses except for specific uses. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) places substances it considers hazardous on a Candidate List prior to Authorisation. Lead chromate pigments are already on the Candidate List and have been put up for Authorisation and given a sunset date, when they can no longer be sold or used, of 21 May 2015. This includes their use in mixtures such as paints and coatings.
REACH allows companies to apply for an Authorisation for continued use of these pigments and paints in specific end-uses where they cannot reasonably be substituted. The latest date for Application for an Authorisation was 21 November 2013. There has been an Authorisation Application to argue for the continued use of two lead pigments in industrial paints (for use on machines, vehicles, structures, signs, road furniture, etc) or as road marking. The British Coatings Federation (BCF) has opposed the Application on the grounds that, as there are many alternatives to these pigments on the market, they can be substituted. It is appreciated, however, that none of these alternatives give completely the same properties as lead pigments and some changes will have to be made by applicators. The vast majority of BCF industrial coatings members, large and small, have moved, or want to move away from lead, and are ready to use alternatives, as long as there is a level playing field and any ban is properly policed. Of course some of the multinationals have already moved or committed to move away from lead globally, and in Australia (for example), all lead paints are banned.
There is also the wider political agenda to consider. The United Nations and World Health Organisation are running a campaign to remove lead from all paints by 2020 globally. The focus is rightly on developing countries, where lead is still used in decorative paint and is having a significant negative effect on the health of children. The coatings industry prefers to take a responsible attitude towards carcinogenic substances like lead. Therefore the BCF supports legislation to create a global ban on the manufacture of all lead pigments, to make a level playing field for all manufacturers within, and outside, Europe.
George Lee, national director of the Road Safety Markings Association, answers questions about the proposed ban
Is the ban likely to happen?
“We think that it would be foolish to assume that the ban will not come into force. The industry has had a long visibility of these proposals and need to be suitably prepared for the ban. We think that in reality it is unlikely that the Commission will delay implementation and whilst there are ongoing attempts to obtain either an exemption or further delay we are yet to be convinced that these will be successful.”
What impact would any ban have on the UK road markings sector?
“There are two main areas where the ban may have an impact; the first is technical and is in relation to colour retention in yellow road markings – the primary reason for the use of lead chromate in yellow road markings is the strong UV resistance it provides for the material; in short it helps keep the yellow yellow for longer and means a greater consistency throughout the network. As a result of the ban it is possible we will see a greater range in the colour band of yellow markings.
“One other potential consequence is a rise in the cost of yellow materials as the alternative pigments are more expensive; the caveat to this is of course that price is a commercial decision that can only be made by manufacturers. Some may choose to absorb some of the cost or maybe not – only time will tell.”
What are the alternatives to using lead chromate for road markings?
“There are a range of organic and inorganic pigments that can be used as alternatives to lead chromates, however, as indicated earlier these have different performance characteristics and may provide their own specific challenges and hazards.”
What advice are you giving to your members?
“Within our technical group at RSMA we have held lengthy discussions regarding environmental impacts of road markings and the proposed lead chromate ban is no exception, with discussions dating back over 10 years.
“In short our advice has been make sure you have an alternative to lead chromate based materials, as you cannot rely on the Commission providing an exemption or an extension to the sunset period. In fairness most, if not all, RSMA material manufacturers have alternatives in their portfolio of products so are capable of providing a seamless supply through the proposed legislative change.”
Are local authorities aware of the proposed ban?
“Most local authorities are aware of the overall changes being brought in, however, it does sometimes take longer for changes to percolate down to specific contracts; our understanding is however, that the responsibility will be equally placed on the supply chain to ensure compliance.”
Do you think there should be a period of grace if the ban does come in?
“We don’t really have a view regarding this, save to say that there has already been a long period leading up to the ban, so people have had some time to prepare for the change.”
The above article first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Highways Magazine.