DIY Finishing - Finishing Techniques

European Commission amends legislation on hardener varnishes and paints

The European Commission has amended the legislation on catalysts used to harden lakes. Regulation 1149/2020 modifies downwards the limit concentration of diisocyanate in manufactured/distributed products and sets the conditions under which products with a higher concentration can be used. It is a measure that protects the health of workers in fields using diisocyanates, which is considered a carcinogenic risk substance. The European Commission's interest in protecting the health of the population and the environment has been growing recently. Another regulation recently approved provides halving the accepted emission limit for formaldehyde. Read more information about it find here.

Regulation forces you to learn before using catalysts

Changes to permitted quantities, labelling and exceptions can be found in Commission Regulation EU 2020/1149 of 3 August 2020 amending Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) as regards diisocyanates.It stipulates that from 24.02.2022, manufacturers and distributors are no longer allowed to place on the European market diisocyanates as such or in mixtures in which their concentration exceeds 0.1% by weight.

But there are exceptions. To produce and work with products with a higher content than this, two important obligations must be respected, training and labelling. Producers and users have until 24.08.2023 to prepare, after which date they must comply with these obligations.

Regarding training obligationParagraph 1(b) states that the employer or self-employed person must ensure that industrial or professional users have successfully completed training in the safe use of diisocyanates before using the substance or mixture(s). That is, from 24 August 2023, all professional users of catalysts containing diisocyanate must be trained in accordance with the requirements of Annex XVII to REACH Regulation. The training must be provided by an HSE expert, in person or as e-learning, and ends with an examination and the award of a certificate valid for five years.

Labelling obligation says in paragraph 2(b): the supplier shall ensure that the recipient of the substance(s) or mixture(s) is provided with information on the requirements referred to in paragraph 1(b) and that the following declaration is placed on the packaging in a manner that is visibly distinct from the rest of the information on the label: "As of 24 August 2023, adequate training is required before industrial or professional use".So, after 24.08.2023, products containing diisocyanate will only be sold to professionals who have attended a course on how to use them, and this must be stated on the packaging labels.

What are isocyanates and what are their health effects

Lacquers/paints dry as a result of solvent release or reaction with a hardener (catalyst). On a piece of furniture we can apply, for example, a nitrocellulose lake or one polyurethane. In the first case, the lake is dry after the solvent comes out. In the second case, the film hardens because we mixed the varnish with a catalyst (hardener) beforehand. The film formed in the second case is harder and more resistant. This means that if you spill the glass of hairspray, the nitrocellulose varnish will soften, whereas the polyurethane varnish will not. The hardener that makes it possible to obtain a hard film is composed of diisocyanate.

Chemically, isocyanates are aliphatic or aromatic polymers that react with acrylic, polyester and alkyd resins to form a polymer called polyurethane. Polyurethanes are high-performance coatings with resistance to physical and chemical agents. They are also the basis of other products such as polyurethane foam, thermal insulation materials, car seats, furniture, mattresses, carpet underlay, packaging materials, shoes, laminated fabrics, synthetic rubber, adhesives. Diizocyanates are isocyanates with two isocyanate groups (-NCO) and are used to make polyurethane paints/varnishes.

Exposure to isocyanates has health effects. The most common are irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing. Isocyanates are compounds classified as potential carcinogens in humans and known to cause cancer in animals. The main effects of long-term exposure to isocyanates are occupational asthma and lung disease.

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.

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