ELGI Warns of Lithium Classification

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ELGI Warns of Lithium Classification
Piles of lithium. The European Lubricating Grease Institute launched an effort recently to lobby against a proposal for the European Union to classify lithium salts as a Category A1 substance in terms of toxicity to reproduction. © SL-Photography

The European Lubricating Grease Institute launched an effort recently to lobby against a proposal for the European Union to classify lithium salts as a Category A1 substance in terms of toxicity to reproduction.

The trade association warned that such an action could have severe impacts on the grease industry since lithium is used as a thickening agent in the vast majority of grease consumed around the world.

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“A possible classification might lead to significant disruptions in the supply chain of lithium or lithium containing mixtures,” Andreas Dodos, chairman of ELGI’s European REACH Grease Thickener Consortium.

REACH is the EU’s over-arching chemicals safety regulation, and it is administered by ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, which is ushering a proposal by ANSES, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, to classify lithium carbonate, lithium hydroxide and lithium chloride as toxic to fertility and fetal development. Being classified as such would subject those chemicals and products containing them to certain new labeling requirements and could also lead to restrictions in the use of the chemicals.

Lithium hydroxide is one of a number of key ingredients that can be used to make soaps that are mixed with oil to thicken greases, and it is by far the most common. Approximately three-fourths of the grease consumed around the world are made with lithium or lithium complex thickeners.

ANSES submitted its proposal to classify the lithium salts in December of 2019, based on observations of impacts on rodents and humans. ECHA accepted public comments on the request until August of 2020. The proposal received input from a wide range of organizations, including Fuchs Schmierstoffe GmbH, the lead REACH registrant for lithium 12-hydroxystearate, the specific chemical used to make lithium grease thickeners. Fuchs questioned the validity of the science cited by ANSES, as did representatives of the battery industry.

Dodos’ letter warned that classification as an A1 reproductive toxicant could impact the way grease manufacturers handle greases as well as the classification of greases containing lithium hydroxide. The organization invited other stakeholders to work with it to develop a position paper explaining the impacts of classifying lithium salts as A1 toxicants. It noted that the deadline for submitting such input is the end of March.

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