Cadmium – end of the line

Will REACh regulations mean the end of the line for cadmium?


Cadmium (CAS Nr. 7440-43-9) is classified as “very toxic“ and its compounds and alloys are considered to be “harmful to health“. Since July 2003 the EU End of Life Vehicles Directive (following Directive 2000/53/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 September 2000 on End of Life Vehicles) decreed that vehicles with a gross weight of less than 3.5 tonnes were no longer permitted to contain any heavy metals. These metals include lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium and cadmium. A further regulation (Directive 2002/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 2003 on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment) and the revised Directive 2011/65/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2011 meant that from 1 July 2006 the ban on heavy metals extended to cover electrical and electronic equipment. This included, in particular large and small domestic appliances, entertainment devices, lighting fixtures, electric tools and electric toys. Thereby the use of cadmium and cadmium-containing alloys in these areas is finally prohibited.

Chemicals legislation in the EU

Chemicals are everywhere. They come into use in all product areas, whether for technical equipment, clothing, cleaning or food production. Chemicals play an important role in our economy and have a direct impact on all areas of our daily life and on the environment as a whole. These effects do not respect natural boundaries; they are felt everywhere; they are worldwide; they are universal. We do not yet know or understand all of the effects that chemicals have on us and our environment. In recent years many substances have been banned or had restrictions placed on their use. Worldwide it has been necessary for legislators to take action. Unfortunately in practice different countries take different courses of action or even none at all. In order to resolve this untenable situation the „European Chemicals Agency“ (ECHA) was founded in 2007 in Helsinki (Finland). Its mission is clearly outlined (1): „ECHA is the driving force among regulatory authorities in implementing the EU's groundbreaking chemicals legislation for the benefit of human health and the environment as well as for innovation and competitiveness. ECHA helps companies to comply with the legislation, advances the safe use of chemicals, provides information on chemicals and addresses chemicals of concern.“ The long term vision for the ECHA is „to become the world's leading regulatory authority on the safety of chemicals.“

REACh regulations

The basis for the work of the ECHA comes from a number of regulations adopted by the European Union (EU). One of these is „Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 (REACh)“ which came into force on 1 June 2007. REACh stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. The goal for the regulation is „to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry. It also promotes alternative methods for the hazard assessment of substances in order to reduce the number of tests on animals.“(2)

The groundbreaking impact of this regulation was that the burden of supplying proof and documentation regarding chemicals was imposed on the industry itself. In the past it was up to the authorities to verify the safety of chemicals. It was a major problem that most of the chemicals were in the European market before 1981 and there was no standardised published information. The industry was only obliged to supply information based on specific enquiries and requests from the authorities. With REACh every manufcaturer or importer who wants to bring a product to market in Europe is now required to submit all relevant data in the compulsory registration and to assess the risks posed by the chemicals themselves. This has lead to the principle „no data – no market“. Thus REACh is one of the most modern and at the same time stringent chemical laws.

Candidate list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC)

The ECHA collects all data on the properties of chemicals and their effects on the environment. Until recently with only a few exceptions (for example pesticides) there has been no official EU authorisation process for chemical substances. The REACh regulation now requires amongst other things that SVHC (Substance of Very High Concern) be formally authorised.

Chemicals or substances that are considered SVHC include one or more of the following criteria:

  • it is carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction;
  • it is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic according to the criteria set out in Annex XIII to the REACH Regulation (PBT substances);
  • it is very persistent and very bioaccumulative according to the criteria set out in Annex XIII to the REACH Regulation (vPvB substances);
  • there is "scientific evidence of probable serious effects to human health or the environment which give rise to an equivalent level of concern"; such substances are identified on a case-by-case basis.

The whole life cycle of the substance must be considered, from original manufacture right through use to final disposal. Chemicals that have been identified as of very high concern are included in the SVHC list. The long term goal is to replace these items with safer substances. If there is currently no alternative safer product available then a temporary limited approval may be given. The ECHA does not act as a library for information. It is manufacturers and importers who make contact when they wish to register the same substances. They form multinational working groups who concentrate on compiling the necessary data.

Legal consequences

The SVHC list is updated twice a year and is published on the ECHA web site (link to current SVHC list). The testing phase begins at the end of the registration period which runs in stages up to 1 June 2018. As already outline above chemicals which are added to the list will be subjected to specific testing with the aim of replacing all listed substances with others of lesser concern. If there is no possible substitue material then an exemption is granted and this is usually limited to a few years. After the deadline elapses a re-examination takes place to evaluate substitue materials.

If a substance is added to the list in accordance with Article 33 of the REACh regulation any dealer, manufacturer or importer must, upon request, supply within 45 days full information free of charge. This is applicable when the concentration of the substance exceed 0.1 % by weight in the final product. Products and areas that are already subject to special regulations are excluded form this duty of disclosure. Currently all affected products may continue to be marketed but must be declared SVHC so there is a requirement for declaration and disclosure. Violation of these requirements will lead to the threat of sanctions and these vary from country to country. In Germany labour inspectorates have control and violation can lead to fines or even criminal action against perpetrators.

Economic consequences

The legal consequences of the inclusion of a chemical on the SVHC candidate list are very clear. However, the economic consequences should definitely not be underestimated. In the textile industry we have seen that leading environmental and consumer organisations have had a major impact on the market. Public opinion and media campaigns can greatly influence consumer behaviour so that on occasions the sale of contaminated (listed) products is no longer commercially viable. Once an item is classified as a SHVC the danger always exists that it will indeed be banned at some future point in time. This could occur as a result of the first test, or, even if the substance has been awarded a temporary exemption, at any future reinvestigation. The result of this would mean that a replacement material must be used instead. Unfortunately in many industrial production processes a great deal of time and effort is required in order to find, develop, test and approve alternative materials. Suppliers and customers have to work long and hard to achieve this, with the whole process requiring potentially considerable financial and man hour investment.


In June 2013 cadmium was added to the list of substances of very high concern (SVHC). This clearly demonstrates that the ECHA is intent on the total substitution of cadmium in all application areas.

Cadmium based alloys have been long used as conductors and in cables due to their high tensile and machanical strength. LEONI took an early lead in environmental responsibility by developing alternative high performance products to replace cadmium in alloy wires. As early as 2006 LEONI introduced LEONI Histral ® H88 and then in 2010 brought H85 to the market. Both alloys are cadmium-free alternatives for solid and stranded conductors with excellent mechanical and electrical properties. If you still have cadmium-containing alloys in your products or processes now is the time to look for alternatives. It takes time to find a replacement, verify its suitability, test it and then carry out a full product qualification. At present there is still time as cadmium may still be used in very restricted cases. We have our growing LEONI Histral® family of alloys ready and waiting for you to replace cadmium.


Please contact us to discuss your application and requirements.