Chlorine industry Bref targets mercury

IPPC directive reference document defines "best available techniques" for greener production

The EU's integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC) bureau has finalised a set of tough guidelines setting out how national authorities should regulate chlorine industry manufacturing plants so as to minimise their environmental impact.

Known as a Bref, the document sets out "best available techniques" (BAT) for use in the industry and concludes that the most common chlorine production technology, based on mercury cells, should be phased out in favour of cleaner alternatives. The Bref is one of over 30 similar reference works already produced or planned by the bureau (ENDS Daily 5 October).

Once it is formally adopted by the European Commission, attention will shift to how EU member states interpret the new Bref when considering chlorine plant operation permits under the 1996 IPPC directive. From 2007, all plants will be covered by the law, but authorities will only need to "take into account" the Bref when setting emission limits.

Both industry and environmentalists agree that the end result of the process should be a phase-out of mercury cell-based plants. Their opinions diverge, however, over how the Bref should be used to achieve this.

"Chlorine producers have made a commitment to make a conversion [away from mercury-based technologies]," Guy Mesrobian of industry body Euro-Chlor told ENDS Daily today. "The only problem is the speed of conversion." Up to 55% of western European production capacity uses mercury and converting them would cost US$4bn (euros 4.6bn), Euro-Chlor says.

The association says the Bref should have "neither a minor nor a major role" in determining when the change takes place. In practice, said Mr Mesrobian, phase-outs should occur when plants are coming to the end of their operational lifetimes. "The final deadline could be 2030," he said.

NGO coalition EEB, meanwhile, disagrees vehemently. It says mercury-based chlorine production should end by 2010, in line with a recommendation agreed under the Ospar Convention in 1990. EU policy director Christian Hey said he was disappointed that the Bref did not adopt this date but nevertheless welcomed it as "well-balanced." "It gives member states a tool to force [industry] to convert," he told ENDS Daily.

Euro-Chlor says mercury losses from production plants have plummeted since the recommendation was passed and are now irrelevant. "The chlorine industry is no longer a significant contributor to mercury emissions," spokesperson Peter Whippy said.

Follow Up:
European IPPC Bureau, tel: +34 95 4488 284, whose website includes the full text of the Bref; Euro-Chlor, tel: +32 2 676 7211; EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090, and its comments on a late draft of the Bref; Ospar, tel: +44 20 7430 5200.

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