Importing Mining Chemicals into Europe responsibly

The globalisation of industrial chemical production has presented new challenges for evaluating the responsibility of the production chain.

Regulations in developing markets concerning environmental issues and occupational safety, for example, do not yet correspond to what Europeans are used to. Indeed, European chemical users play an important role in determining what kinds of agreements they make with producers and what kinds of expectations they place on them in terms of responsible operations.

SATISFYING THE DEMAND FOR A RESPONSIBLE PARTNER

Finland is the leading producer of gold and nickel and the only producer of chrome in the European Union. Our country has over 50 active mines and quarries. The mining companies that operate in Finland and Finnish expertise play a key role in developing the sustainable, economic and innovative utilisation of natural resources and materials.

Most of the xanthates used as an enrichment chemical in Finnish mines are imported from outside the European Union.

“Xanthate production is very limited in Europe and is insufficient to cover the needs of industry. If a company decides to obtain the chemical independently directly from outside the EU, they may find themselves faced by importer obligations. The REACH registration of a single imported chemical may cost a single company as much as hundreds of thousands of euros. This has stimulated new demand for a partner who can import the chemical from outside the EU and handle all the REACH registrations,” says Birgitta Bergén-Kavanto from Algol Chemicals.

If a producer outside the EU has not fulfilled its REACH obligations by appointing a sole representative within the EU, the importer is responsible for handling the REACH registration. The registration obligation applies to substances covered by the REACH regulation that are imported into EU in quantities of over 100 tonnes either as such or as compounds. The limit will be raised to 1000 tonnes per annum in 2018.

“Mining companies in Finland are for the most part extremely responsible operators. Our customers are well aware of their REACH obligations. However, very few industrial chemical users want to carry the responsibility of registering the chemicals independently due to the amount of work and resources this requires. Instead, they prefer the importer and manufacture to handle these obligations,” Bergén-Kavanto explains.

VARYING CONCEPTS OF RESPONSIBILITY

Not all countries that are major suppliers of chemicals, such as China and India, have sufficient expertise in responsibility and environmental issues.

“With xanthates we soon discovered that the Chinese producer had no experience in selling directly to Europe and therefore no awareness of EU regulations concerning the use and registration of chemicals. Our duty as a responsible operator was then to offer our own REACH expertise to support both the producer and the end users,” says Bergén-Kavanto.

“Importing also involves handling formalities with the authorities and temporary warehousing to ensure efficient logistics. Theoretically it would have been possible to bypass the regulations for some time by importing smaller quantities from different suppliers in order to avoid the 100-tonne limit – this practice does occur in Europe. But we wanted to operate in the spirit of REACH and reassure our customers that the substances are produced and imported responsibly through a single company and not by different operators,” Bergén-Kavanto says, describing the situation before the registration decision.

The registration process includes gathering research material and inspecting the identity of the imported substance by means of laboratory tests.

“The registration process takes over a year altogether, but now we can proudly say that we are the leading registration company for potassium amyl xanthate. Algol Chemicals is the only holder of REACH registration for these products in the entire Nordic region,” Bergén-Kavanto adds.

RESPONSIBILITY DOES NOT END WITH REACH REGISTRATION

REACH registrations do not involve actual auditing visits to production plants.
“Before starting to import, we independently visited the Chinese producer’s plant to inspect the operations there. At the time the plant was not even completely finished yet. However, we were delighted to find that the plant featured was a fully automated closed system, and working conditions were good,” Bergén-Kavanto says.

Developing responsibility in the production chain does not end once a REACH registration number has been obtained.

“Our selected chemical suppliers have strong process and related expertise in the mining industry. They can readily supply technical support, from process management to analysis and testing. They can also visit mining sites and undertake laboratory tests at the supplier’s facilities. We have already agreed with our biggest customer to visit the Chinese plant together to inspect the quality of the processes and the product. In this way we want to make the entire production chain transparent and ensure our customers of the quality and continuity of both the product and the operations behind it,” Bergen-Kavanto explains.

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