US escalates opposition to EU titanium dioxide, cobalt classifications

The US has stepped up its objection to an EU proposal to classify titanium dioxide as a category 2 carcinogen, asking the Commission “to take no further action” until it directly addresses WTO members on the matter.

The comments were made in a second US statement to the WTO’s Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, circulated on 23 July – five days after the EU executive provided assurances in response to initial US concerns expressed in March.

The Philippines and Russia have also joined the chorus of international opposition to the EU classification plans.

In the latest WTO statement, the US says it is “disappointed” that the Commission has not sought to consult with WTO members on the “poorly scoped” classification, much less address their concerns. Its objections relate to:

  • lack of transparency of how the EU notifies and conducts public consultations via REACH and CLP Regulations, both within the EU and to the WTO;
  • the wrong application of the UN Globally Harmonised Standard (GHS) for the classification and labelling of chemicals to the titanium dioxide classification; and
  • concern about “overly broad” classifications for both titanium dioxide and cobalt metal.     

The Commission has faced mounting pressure from industry in the EU and beyond to defer the CLP classification for titanium dioxide, proposed only for mixtures in powder form. NGOs, meanwhile, have slammed the classification’s limited scope.

Titanium dioxide has widespread uses, mainly in paints, coatings, printing inks and plastics but also in cosmetics, food and feedstuffs, textiles, rubber and pharmaceuticals. 

The US says the classifications for both titanium dioxide and cobalt ­– the latter as a 1B carcinogen for all routes of exposure – include uses where “there is no scientific evidence of a risk to human health”.

On titanium dioxide, it says, the Commission has yet to explain why a distinction has not been made between fine and ultra-fine or nano particles in the classification, and whether downstream derogations would be available for articles such as toys and medical devices.

“We ask the EU to take no further action on these two classifications,” it says, until the Commission responds to WTO members “here on the floor” and to comments received through an EU public consultation.

Russia on cobalt

Another complaint, circulated to WTO members on 22 July, came from Russia. It says that EU’s CLP proposal on cobalt lacks “solid positive systemic carcinogenicity animal data” and risks disrupting trade in products containing even small amounts of the metal such as stainless steel, as well as nickel.

Russia asks the Commission to undertake a thorough review of the comments received from WTO members. It says the EU executive should:

  • exclude cobalt metal from the CLP proposal until further studies clarify the necessity of such a classification;
  • propose a new classification based on scientific grounds, and not for all routes of exposure; and
  • abandon the unscientific chemical classification methodology.

The Philippines, in a June statement to the WTO, called on the Commission to defer the titanium dioxide classification indefinitely, warning that the proposal could “create panic, fear and paranoia among consumers”.

The Commission, in its response to the first US statement, said the classification would only have a limited impact on downstream users.

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