Is Borax about to be banned in the UK?

As you may have read in our previous post, Borax (aka Sodium Borate) is a chemical with a myriad of practical uses around the home.  However, speculation has been growing recently online that this helpful household product is soon to be reclassified as a dangerous substance and banned for sale in the EU and consequently the United Kingdom. On hearing this alarming news we set out to find out if there was any truth to these rumours and what the future really holds for Borax.

Current Legislation

Some light can be shed on this matter by looking at a piece of EU regulation called “Adaptations to Technical Progress”, specifically the 30th and 31st ATP’s.  In this legislation the group of chemicals known as Borates (including Borax) were reclassified as “Reprotoxic Category 2“.  This classification suggests that the product is harmful to the reproductive functions of humans in high doses, and means the substance must carry the skull and crossbones symbol.  The reclassification came about because of a study carried out on pregnant rats who were exposed to high doses of borates [1].  The study suggests that Boric Acid is harmful when exposed regularly to concentrations of more that 5.5%.  For other Borates this limit may be higher depending on the amount of Boric Acid contained.

EU Law states that this reclassification of Borates must take place in each member state by 1st December 2010, however the reclassification itself does not restrict the sale of the substances.  What it means is that Borax is now on the list of Substances of Very High Concern for the REACH Regulation which was set up to protect the population from exposure to harmful substances.  REACH introduces a process in which those substances that are considered to pose an unacceptably high risk to human health and theenvironment may be removed from the market unless there is a justifiable need for them to remain.

REACH

The process for removing SVHC substances from the market can be briefly summarised as follows:
Identification as an SVHC
Entry onto the Candidate List
Prioritisation for Authorisation
Addition to the Annex XIV List of Substances subject to Authorisation

At each stage of this process, there is no certainty that a substance at one stage will necessarily proceed to the next, although if a substance completes the final stage, it will be potentially removed from the market for all uses that are not exempted or for which authorisations have not been granted.

Boric acid and disodium tetraborate salts have reached the second stage in this process. They were added to the Candidate List in June 2010. Entry onto the Candidate List places some legal obligations on suppliers of those substances, but it does not restrict their use in any way [2].

The Future

Whether or not Borax will make it to the end of the REACH process and become completely restricted is still very much uncertain. Until then it remains legal to buy and sell Borax provided that it is correctly labelled and packaged with the appropriate hazard warnings. You can buy Borax online here.  Even if Borates themselves are restricted in the future under REACH, exemptions will probably be made for certain applications [3].  For example the concentration of boric acid used in laundry detergents is much less than the limit imposed by EU classification. Even if Borates become illegal for the general public to buy, other alternatives exist such as sodium percarbonate which is an effective product for cleaning and bleaching.

Check back soon for further updates on this issue.

Refrences:
[1] http://www.mtib.gov.my/techalert/3-2007/BORATESIssue.pdf
[2] http://www.ueil.org/health_environment/documents/boric-jul10-rev02.pdf
[3] http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/chemicals/files/docs_studies/final_report_borates_en.pdf

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About mistralhowto

formulation chemist

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