Study backs strong EU limits on metals in cars

Survey of metal phase-out feasibility provides more support to governments than parliament

A new study on the feasibility of phasing out heavy metals such as lead in motor vehicle manufacture has largely backed the position of EU governments in a battle with the European Parliament over the draft end-of-life vehicles (ELV) directive.

The study concludes that several exemptions proposed by the parliament from a future EU ban on the metals in car production are unjustified. The two sides are beginning political negotiations over the directive having failed to agree on heavy metal controls and other elements during the normal legislative process.

As adopted by environment ministers, the draft directive would ban lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in cars, except for certain applications such as lead in batteries. The parliament voted in February to extend exemptions to other applications and to delay the introduction of bans for up to 12 years after the date proposed by ministers. The Commission last week said that both changes would result in a "major weakening" of the directive (ENDS Daily 29 March).

The new consultancy study concludes that exemptions are not necessary for lead in wheel balancing weights or in concentrations of 1-4% in aluminium alloy for engines, both of which have been demanded by the parliament. It also rejects the assembly's call for cadmium batteries to be available for carmakers. The study says alternatives for the weights are already available, and "technically possible" for the other two.

A Commission source said today that exempting lead in wheel balancing weights would have the most serious consequences for the environment of the options under discussion. One US study has found up to 20 kg of dislodged weights over a four-mile stretch of road and has associated this with lead in groundwater exceeding safe drinking water levels by 10,000 times, he said.

In one of the few areas that it does back the parliament's position, the consultancy study concludes that lead will remain necessary in spark-plugs and bearing housings.

The Commission source told ENDS Daily the EU executive would maintain its opposition to exempting the applications, but admitted that a "compromise will have to be found".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See also the study.

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