Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?
Businesses welcome good regulation, but sometimes large organisations such as the EU are faced with the left hand not always being aware what the right hand is doing.
That’s the situation we face with the latest bid to use the REACH chemical regulations to, in effect, start a process which could eventually lead to the banning of lead as a metal. This is the aim of a proposal put forward by EU member state Sweden to add lead metal to the REACH candidate list, which could see lead facing authorisation for all its uses in Europe with the overall objective to drive substitution with another substance or technology where technically and economically feasible alternatives are available.
It would be a highly retrograde step with unintended consequences affecting our day to day lives. The thing is, lead is already highly regulated and tightly managed in Europe. It is an essential metal used in millions of batteries which support vital everyday products and services used by the 500 million people who live and work across the continent.
Lead batteries provide power for cars and lorries including start-stop vehicles which reduce toxic emissions, and are used to provide back-up power for everything from hospitals to telecommunications systems and computer networks.
Meanwhile, advanced lead batteries are increasingly being used for energy storage from renewables including solar and wind farms. And every electric vehicle has a back-up lead battery – powering the sophisticated battery management systems, computer controls, airbags and other essential power back-up. So, attempts to ban it are misguided and potentially highly damaging for our social and economic infrastructure.
There are existing Regulations to minimise lead exposure in the workplace and the environment, which we’d be happy to tighten in line with industry best practice, and the general public are protected by restrictions that prevent the marketing of lead containing products that could present a risk to health. And lead batteries are one of the most recycled consumer products in the EU – with 99% collection and recycling rates.
Yes, we know lead is a toxic substance but it’s already highly regulated and companies using it are consistently looking for ways of reducing worker exposures and any emissions from their manufacturing site. We cannot innovate and move towards a greener, decarbonised Europe by banning a substance that plays a pivotal role in energy storage solutions that will be required to meet this challenge.
That way the law of unintended consequences spells disaster for our economy and our society. And that is why the EU’s regulators must resist attempts to ban all uses of lead.