K-REACH Targets 518 Chemicals

A draft list of substances that will require registration under South Koreas looming new chemical safety regulation includes a number of chemicals used by the lubricants industry, from various amines to metalworking fluid biocides and other lube components.

The countrys Act on the Registration and Evaluation of Chemical Substances - known as K-REACH - is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, and will require companies manufacturing or importing more than 1 metric ton per year of unexempted substances to report their volumes each year. In addition, the law will require registration of existing chemicals that the government deems hazardous, plus all new chemicals entering the market.

Registration is significantly more time-consuming and costly than reporting and includes: providing government dossiers with safety data and documentation of the risks they pose; notifying users of risks; and communicating safety information up and down the supply chain.

On Oct. 31 the Ministry of Environment released a much-awaited draft of the first 518 chemicals that would be subject to registration. Some of these are used in the lubricants industry, such as boric acid, a lubricity agent in engine oils and other lubricants; glutaraldehyde and a number of isothiazoles used as biocides in metalworking fluids; diphenylamine, which is used as an antioxidant in lubricants; and tributylamine, an intermediate used in the production of lubricant additives.

Also making the list: methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), used as a dewaxing agent in the refining of base oils; chlorine, which goes into extreme pressure additives; lead salts of tall oil fatty acids, used in metalworking fluids and lubricants.

This initial list of registration chemicals is due to be finalized in June. Over the next years, the ministry is expected to add to the list until it contains approximately 2,000 substances. Companies must register substances within three years of their appearance on the list.

Response to registration requirements is expected to be one of the main impacts of South Koreas law along with chemical safety regulations being implemented in other countries and regions. Industry sources say documentation and testing costs will probably drive some suppliers to exit the market.

The issue is the new regulations incur new expenses toacquire data and information on chemical substances, explained Lim Jongchan, executive director of the Seoul-based Korea Lubricating Oil Industries Association. Industries have to pay the cost whether they buy the data and information, or they individually generate data. Big companies can do the work. But small companies have no clue. We are skeptical if they are able to pay all the costs of keeping business alive.

Everyone who wants market access to Korea has to evaluate the costs of complying with this law, said James E. Eggenschwiler, director of global trade at The Redstone Group, a United States firm specializing in international trade and chemical control laws. Given that South Korea is one of the seven largest chemicals market, that decision takes on particular significance.

Registration may not be the end of the story in cases where its required. The Ministry of Environment will examine dossiers and determine if certain substances warrant additional regulation, which could range from requirements to gain approval prior to manufacture, importation or use to outright prohibition.

South Koreas looming law is known informally as K-REACH, because it was modeled after the European Unions Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals regulation (REACH), which took effect in 2007 and is still being phased in.

South Korea correspondent Jeongmae Choi contributed to this article.