Cadmium in partial EU battery ban

Controversial chemical cadmium will be phased out of use in certain batteries, following an agreement by EU Ministers, but will still be allowed for some purposes.

Whereas batteries for mobile phones, toys and camcorders will no longer contain the substance, some exemptions have been granted due to backtracking by some Member States.

Greenpeace and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed the ban, but criticised as outrageous the ruling that power tools, which account for the largest commercial use of cadmium in portable batteries, would be exempt, as well as the total exclusion of all industrial batteries.

The EU Presidency’s original proposal included a complete phase-out of cadmium in all portable batteries, including power tools, but last minute backtracking, mainly by Germany but also by France, the UK, Poland and Italy, undermined the agreement, reducing the actual scope of the phase-out to less than 15%.

“Over 20 years after the council called for cadmium to be substituted wherever possible, today’s decision represents just a feeble step in the direction,” said Jorgo Riss of Greenpeace’s European Unit. “Certain ministers have caved in to pressure from backward-looking power tool producers to undermine the aims of the Directive.”

Limiting the ban’s scope would seriously dilute the aim of the Directive, he added, which was ultimately to achieve a high level of protection of the environment and the health of European people.

Cadmium is a known toxic and carcinogenic substance, and has been proven to cause kidney, bone and liver damage.

EU policy director at EEB, Stefan Scheuer commented that it was a good sign the Member States had endorsed the partial cadmium ban, but that the agreement should have gone further.

“The exemptions granted and the delay of four years to consider a comprehensive ban, run counter to the objective of rewarding innovative frontrunners and promotion of knowledge-based competitiveness, something Member States have been so keen to commit to,” he said.

Mr Sheuer added that, in four years time, new and safer batteries would probably be coming from outside Europe, and would cut off the EU’s chance to lead the market in a similar way to the Toyota Prius situation.

He said that new technologies for cleaner industrial batteries, such as NiZn, were currently ready for mass production, but that a tentative legal framework such as a partial ban potentially weakened the attractiveness of EU investment.

“The Council’s own impact assessment documents, recent studies and the industry’s own information show that there are safer alternatives to cadmium power tool batteries available on the market at minimal extra cost,” Mr Riss added, “and there is no excuse not to ban these toxic power tool batteries immediately.”

The initial substance revision was launched by the Commission in May 2004 (see related story).

By Jane Kettle

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