New regulation extends scope of ban on products containing cadmium

On May 21 2011 the Official Journal published EU Regulation 494/2011, which extends the existing ban on the presence of cadmium in products to cover articles made of plastic materials, articles of jewellery and brazing sticks (ie, rods of soft metal for joining metals at temperatures higher than those used for traditional soldering).

The use of cadmium in most plastics has been prohibited on the EU market since 1992; the ban was extended in 2004 to cover many uses in batteries and electronics. At the time of the 1992 ban, cadmium could still be used in certain rigid plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), because there was no suitable alternative; however, the European Commission has determined that the availability of suitable substitutes now
justifies a ban on the substance in all plastics.

Mixtures and articles produced from plastic materials may not be placed on the market if the concentration of cadmium - termed 'Cd metal' - is equal to or greater than 0.01% by weight of the plastic material.

The commission will continue to promote the recovery and re-use of PVC waste containing low levels of cadmium, although only for use in a limited number of applications, such as construction products. In order to be placed on the market, recovered PVC that contains cadmium will be required to bear a logo to inform users of its cadmium content (or the words 'contains recovered PVC'). The new regulation shows the logo that must be affixed.
Moreover, the commission has determined that a ban on the use of cadmium in jewellery is necessary, as inspections of products on the market have shown dangerously high levels of cadmium in certain types of jewellery, particularly imitation or costume jewellery. Cadmium, a carcinogen, can enter the bloodstream through contact with the skin; therefore, the commission believes it is necessary to ban its use in jewellery entirely. The relevant provision of the regulation bans the following articles if they contain more than 0.01% of cadmium:

  • metal beads and other metal components for jewellery making; and
  • metal parts of jewellery and imitation jewellery articles and hair accessories,
     - bracelets, necklaces and rings;
     - piercing jewellery;
     - wristwatches and wrist-wear; and
     - brooches and cufflinks.

The ban has been extended to cover brazing sticks, which are used by consumers for a small number of specific purposes, such as in constructing model trains and cars. The fumes emitted when heating brazing sticks that contain cadmium are said to be highly dangerous if inhaled. Cadmium will be allowed in brazing sticks that are used in defence and aerospace applications, and in brazing fillers used for safety reasons.

Companies should bear in mind that new the regulation will apply as of January 10 2012. From this date, products banned under the extended measures will no longer be allowed on the EU market.

The three restrictions have been added to Annex 17 of the EU Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (1907/2006). A copy of EU Regulation 494/2011 can be accessed at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:134:0002:0005:EN:PDF.