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Compliance & Standards Briefing: Exxon Suit, WEEE Fraud, RoHS2, 3E

A federal judge has said that the Sierra Club and Environment Texas can sue for enforcement of federal pollution standards at the nation’s largest oil refinery, Reuters reports. The environmental groups said that, according to notices filed by Exxon Mobil with state and federal regulators, the company’s Baytown, Texas refinery and chemical plant have in the past five years released over 8 million more pounds of pollutants than what is permitted under the Clean Air Act. Exxon had asked federal Judge David Hitner to throw out the lawsuit because the Baytown refinery is already subject to federal Clean Air Act enforcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The court’s decision is not a comment on the merits of the suit,” said Exxon’s Kevin Allexon. “Over the last five years the Baytown refinery and chemical plant has produced total annual emissions that are nearly 40 percent below the federal permit limits set by EPA.” A similar lawsuit in 2008 against Royal Dutch Shell Plc led to a settlement in which Shell agreed to further cut emissions and pay $5.8 million for pollution controls in the Houston area.

Fraud to avoid compliance with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive on e-waste is happening in Spain on a massive scale, according to the country’s environmental prosecutor, ENDS Europe reports (via WEEE Forum). The prosecutor’s report on investigations in 2010 says that non-compliance is “systematic”, and fraud is taking place at all levels of the WEEE collection and treatment chain. In Madrid last year, 60 people including scrap merchants and waste treatment managers were charged for breaches of WEEE, according to the report. The waste is frequently dumped, illegally exported and sent to unauthorised sites, where it is dismantled and sold on the black market. In illegal scrapyards “toxic substances are filtering into the soil, and CFCs are released in an uncontrolled manner into the atmosphere,” the report said. The revelation follows U.K. recycler Environmental Waste Controls’ admission that e-waste left in its care ended up being dumped in west Africa, in violation of WEEE regulations.

The Council of the European Union has broadened the application of RoHS, the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances Directive, as we previewed last month. The council revised the directive to apply to all electrical and electronic equipment as well as cables and spare parts. The rule provides for several transitional periods: monitoring and control devices and medical devices will be covered in three years, in vitro medical devices in five years and industrial control appliances in six years. The ruling also obliges the European Commission to regularly review and adapt the list of restricted substances according to a number of criteria, meaning that further substances may be banned in the future. Currently the law bans six hazardous substances, including lead, mercury and cadmium. As we reported, photovoltaic panels do not need to comply with RoHS, and the commission said that energy-saving light bulbs are also temporarily exempted. There are a few more steps before the law has full force. The revised directive has to be published in the Official Journal of the EU, be transposed into EU member state laws within 18 months, and a time frame must be established for industry implementation, according to consulting firm Design Chain Associates, reported in EBN. For more information on the RoHS revision, see the EU’s RoHS Recast Corrigendum and the RoHS Recast Addendum.

3E Company, a provider of environmental health and safety (EH&S) compliance and information management services, has launched MSDgen 6.05, an enhanced version of its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) authoring system. The new version includes many features for quicker and easier development of accurate and compliant MSDSs, labels, and other hazard communication documents that conform to complex emerging regulations, including the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for chemical labeling and classification, and Europe’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulatory framework. 3E says that MSDgen 6.05 facilitates the development of the REACH Exposure Scenario (ES) component of extended Safety Data Sheets (eSDSs) in accordance with the European Chemicals Agency’s most recent guidance documents (published in May 2010), as well as the ES for Communication XML standard format being developed by industry associations, IT software providers, ECHA, and the Federation of German Industries. The creation of Exposure Scenarios is likely to be a significant source of concern for manufacturers and distributors already struggling to comply with rapidly changing global regulations, 3E Company says.

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