MEPs defend use of heavy metals in cars

Committee opposes proposal that could outlaw leaded steel, calls for new PVC controls

MEPs have recommended an array of exemptions from the European Commission's proposed crack-down on harmful substances in scrapped cars in votes taken this morning by the European Parliament's environment committee.

The proposed end-of-life vehicles directive would require member states to ensure that four toxic heavy metals used in cars are separated before they become waste. Early discussions by EU governments have revealed an enthusiasm for adopting the stricter control still of simply banning the use of mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium and cadmium in cars in the first place.

Bucking the trend, the environment committee accepted that the car industry relied on all the metals covered by the draft directive except cadmium. Under the leadership of the Socialist group, it voted against the Commission's proposed restrictions, calling instead for their use to continue to be permitted for specified applications.

The proposed limits would come into force for cars newly launched on the market from 2005. Lead would be allowed in alloys - including "leaded steel" and solders - linings of fuel tanks, and as a stabiliser in paint coatings and plastic components. Hexavalent chromium would be allowed in anti-corrosive coatings on components, and mercury would still be permitted for use in light bulbs.

The committee's proposal would require the Commission to reduce the limits, specified in a new annex, at least once every two years. In a separate amendment, the committee voted that mercury must be removed from scrap cars before shredding as of July 2001, and that the other three substances be banned from landfill disposal from that date.

The amendments appear to be a significant victory for Europe's steel industry, which has been lobbying vigorously to avoid an effective ban on leaded steel. Lead is widely used by the industry as an additive to make steel easier to mould.

However, the environmental lobby will take solace from committee amendments calling for strong action against PVC, a material that the Commission originally considered adding to its list of hazardous substances, but finally left out of its proposal (ENDS Daily 14 July 1997). PVC and cadmium would both be banned from new vehicles receiving type approval after 2005, under the environment committee's proposal.

Another amendment calls on the Commission to produce a proposal, before the end of the year, to completely phase out PVC from all waste streams.

The committee decided to leave pretty much intact the Commission's proposal to make car makers responsible for any costs incurred in dealing with waste vehicles, allowing final owners to scrap their cars free of charge. The rapporteur, German Christian Democrat Karl-Heinz Florenz, failed to persuade colleagues that this would interfere too much with the existing scrap car market (ENDS Daily 25 November 1998).

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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