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Hydrogenated terphenyls, what’s the story and what’s next?

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The Story

Hydrogenated terphenyl (CAS 61788-32-7; EC 262-967-7) is a substance commonly used a heat transfer fluid by many different industries. The substance is better known as Therminol 66 and Fragoltherm 660.

The substance has been REACH registered in 2010 by Solutia, a subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Company, and updated regularly with the support of Apeiron to keep the information actual and include newly conducted tests.

In 2017, Finland conducted a PBT assessment in which they concluded that the substance is vPvB (very persistent and very bio-accumulative). On these grounds, hydrogenated terphenyl was set forward as SVHC (Substance of Very High Concern) and the substance was added to the Candidate List of SVHC for authorisation mid-2018.

ECHA regularly assesses the substances from the Candidate List to determine which ones should be included in the Authorisation List as a priority.  This prioritization is primarily based on information in the registration dossiers (e.g. volume and uses) and the concern. Priority is given to substances with PBT or vPvB properties OR wide-dispersive use OR high volumes. Hydrogenated terphenyls meets the 3 criteria. Based on the prioritization, a number of substances are proposed in the Draft recommendation (including sunset date and the latest application date by which authorisation should be submitted). ECHA’s draft recommendation is then submitted for public consultation allowing industry, NGO’s and members of the public to comment. The public consultation for hydrogenated terphenyl was closed 5/6/2020.

More than 50 companies and trade associations gave input to the Public Consultation, from a large scale bakery to a nuclear power company. In their response, multiple companies argue that the use of terphenyl hydrogenated as heat transfer fluid (HTF) should be exempted from the authorisation or not be put forward on the Authorisation List: (1) companies using the HTF are using the substance in closed installations, (2) emissions from those installations are non-existent, (3) complete replacement of the volume of HTF is only required every 20 years or more, and (4) emissions and exposure during filling are minimized. Moreover, to date, there are no suitable alternatives available, unless regrettable substitution. Indeed, well-known alternatives have the same functional group as hydrogenated terphenyl triggering the vPvB properties.

What's Next

Now it’s up to the Member State Committee (MSC) to provide an opinion on the draft recommendation of ECHA, taking into account the comments received during public consultation. When the MSC Opinion is available, ECHA finalizes the Recommendation for Authorisation List and submits it to the European Commission. It is then up to the EU Commission to decide on the substances to be included in the Authorisation List and their corresponding Sunset Date and Latest Application Date (LAD). Be aware that it might well be that the EU Commission decides that for example restriction would be a better tool for managing this substance!

It is important to note that there are no strict deadlines for the MSC and EU Commission to come to a conclusion. This means that some substances have been stalled on the Candidate List already for a long time (such as borates, lead compounds, …).

What can you, as downstream user, do?

Unfortunately, once on the Candidate List for Authorisation, always on the Candidate List… This means that at any point in time, the EU Commission can decide to put forward hydrogenated terphenyl to the Authorisation List. Once on the Authorisation List, you have (depending on the final entry) 18 to 24 months to substitute away from hydrogenated terphenyl (and alike substances) OR prepare and submit an authorisation application (= Latest Application Date).

So don’t just sit back and relax, do your homework!

Keeping in mind that at any time, the EU Commission may decide to place the substance on the authorisation list, we strongly advise companies to start their Alternatives Assessment already today. Assess what your options for substitution are.

Even in the event that it is decided that restriction would be a better regulatory management option, assess how low you can go in avoiding emissions to the environment, map your vulnerabilities in that situation, …

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Posted by
Hiram Moerman
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