Enhancing chemical safety and transparency in the construction sector: Aligning EU regulations to navigate compliance for a sustainable built environment
22 December 2023
In addition, the complexity of the construction sector necessitates a broader perspective, and two complementary regulations, the Biocidal Product Regulation and the Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) regulation, weave into this narrative. For policy stakeholders in the construction sector, this convergence holds immense promise, but also necessitates a comprehensive understanding of their implications, challenges, and avenues for seamless implementation.
The Construction Product Regulation (CPR) 305/2011/EU lays down harmonized conditions for the marketing of construction products. Its key focus is to ensure that buildings made of these products meet essential requirements concerning safety, health, and environmental protection while CE marked products can enter the market in all member states. On the other hand, REACH (1907/2006/EC) primarily aims to regulate chemicals and their safe usage throughout the EU. Revision processes were initiated for both regulations. The CPR revision proposal was adopted on 30 March 2022, while the REACH revision is expected within 2024. The Biocidal Product Regulation (BPR) 528/2012/EU concerns the placing on the market and use of biocidal products (also used in the construction sector) and aims to improve the functioning of the biocidal products market in the EU, while ensuring a high level of protection for humans and the environment. The CLP regulation 1272/2008/EU is based on the United Nations’ Globally Harmonised System (GHS) and requires manufacturers, importers or downstream users of substances or mixtures to classify, label and package their hazardous chemicals appropriately before placing them on the market. An amendment (Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2023/707 regarding the hazard classes and criteria for substances and mixtures) was published on 31 March 2023. In addition, the EU Commission presented a proposal to revise and modernize the CLP Regulation on 19 December 2022.
Chemical Information for Construction Professionals: Making Informed Choices
For the construction sector to correctly implement REACH, a robust framework is needed that integrates the identification and management of hazardous substances in building materials. Professionals, such as architects, engineers, and other construction professionals face the critical task of selecting materials that meet high safety and environmental standards. To make informed choices, access to comprehensive information about the chemical composition of building materials is crucial; hence, centralized databases and platforms that disclose chemical compositions in building materials should be established. This information should be readily available, easily understandable, and consistently updated.
The EU’s REACH regulation is designed to provide this crucial data. Under REACH, manufacturers and importers are obligated to register information about the properties and uses of their chemical substances, ensuring transparency in the supply chain. REACH compliance ensures that manufacturers provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS) offering detailed chemical compositions, potential hazards, safe use, and disposal of substances, empowering professionals to assess the environmental impact and health risks associated with the materials they choose and safe handling instructions for each product. Nevertheless, data availability may vary across different types of products, creating a scattered landscape for professionals seeking to make informed choices. Understanding this divergence is crucial. SDSs are not mandatory for articles, but only for substances and mixtures (see info-box below)
|Construction Product (examples)
|Information available upon request, only when SVHC present above 0.1%w.w.
|Information available upon request, only when SVHC present above 0.1%w.w.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Citizen Awareness: Empowering the Everyday Builder
For DIY enthusiasts who embark on home improvement projects, accessing information about the chemicals in products is equally vital. DIY products often lack the technical specifications found in industrial settings, making reliance on standardized information even more critical. Consider the selection of paints: a conventional paint containing harmful substances compared to an eco-friendly, non-toxic paint is a notable example.
To cater to the needs of citizens engaged in DIY activities, there should be accessible platforms or databases that compile information on chemicals present in commonly used construction materials. This could be achieved through online portals or mobile applications, allowing individuals to make informed decisions about the products they bring into their homes. Currently the easiest way to avoid harmful chemicals in DIY activities is to use ecolabeled products.
Hazardous vs. Non-Hazardous Products: Examples from the Construction Sector
To comprehend the impact of regulations on product choices, let’s consider two common construction materials: paint and cement.
Paints, although not directly covered by the Construction Product Regulation, fall under the purview of REACH.
Paint with Hazardous Substances: Understanding the Risks
Imagine a paint containing hazardous substances such as lead, biocides or solvents with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These substances can pose serious health risks and environmental harm. REACH ensures that manufacturers disclose these risks in the product’s Safety Data Sheet, guiding professionals to make safer choices.
Paint without Hazardous Substances: A Safer Alternative
In contrast, a paint formulated with low-VOC or without harmful chemicals provides a safer alternative. REACH empowers consumers by offering clear information on non-hazardous options, enabling choices that align with environmental and health concerns such as avoiding products with CLP hazard pictograms on the packaging as much as possible.
Similarly, in the case of cement, the focus would be on distinguishing between traditional cement, which might contain harmful additives, versus eco-friendly alternatives, promoting sustainability and health. Cement, a fundamental building material, is regulated under both CPR and REACH. While CPR ensures its mechanical properties meet standards, REACH addresses potential chemical risks. Under the revised CPR also aspects like global warming potential, recycled content and leaching into soil and groundwater have been added to the comprehensive approach the EU takes to safeguarding public health and the environment.
Schematic: CPR vs. REACH
Understanding the distinct roles of CPR and REACH in regulating construction products is essential. The following schematic provides a comparative overview, delineating the responsibilities and focus areas of each regulation:
|Construction Product Regulation (CPR)
|CE marking for specific product groups (excluding paints)
|Registration of chemical substances
|Attestation and verification of constancy of performance
|Hazardous substance identification and management – authorization and restriction
|Declaration of Performance (DoP) for products within scope (not adequately implemented)
|Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for product information
|DoP to deliver the information needed by the member states to ensure the safety of buildings
|Communication of information in the supply chain
|Emphasis on removing barriers to trade
|Emphasis on consumer and environmental safety
|Circularity and life-cycle considerations under revised CPR
|Extension of REACH to a broader range of products beyond construction
It’s crucial to note that while CPR focuses mainly on the performance and mechanical properties of construction products, REACH delves into the chemical aspects, ensuring that substances in these products are safe for human health and the environment. Building level health and environmental effects can be dealt with under CPR, when the member states have set respective requirements for their buildings.
Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and Declaration of Performance (DoP): Bridging CPR and REACH
The Safety Data Sheets (SDS) under REACH serve as a crucial repository of information for construction professionals and as a bridge between CPR and REACH. These sheets, as mandated by REACH, detail the chemical composition of products, aiding in the implementation of CPR by offering insights into potential hazards and safe handling procedures. These sheets are pivotal in making informed decisions and ensuring safety throughout the product lifecycle.
While REACH and CPR work in tandem, the full potential of their collaboration is hindered by the insufficient implementation of the Declaration of Performance (DoP). The DoP, a CPR requirement, should integrate information from REACH to offer a comprehensive overview of a product’s performance and chemical safety. As it was already emphasised, while the information for building products that come with SDS is readily available, it is difficult to obtain data for building products that are articles under REACH. Currently an interim solution that all constructors should make use of in view of the NonHazCity 3 project is to ask their product suppliers for a REACH conformity declaration to ensure that the manufacturers have regarded all their duties.
REACH Restriction Processes: Real-world Examples
Two impactful instances exemplify REACH’s role in enhancing the safety of construction products:
- Restriction of HBCD in Polystyrene Insulation Products
HBCD, a flame retardant for plastics, was restricted due to its environmental persistence and bioaccumulative properties, not only under REACH Annex XIV but also under the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) Regulation. The inclusion in both frameworks underscores the severity of its environmental impact. This restriction aligns with CPR’s objective of ensuring circularity and sustainable product life-cycles.
- Restriction of Phthalates like DEHP in Soft PVC Floor Coverings
Phthalates, commonly used in PVC products, were restricted due to health concerns (toxic to reproduction and interferes with the hormone system), particularly for vulnerable populations. This aligns with CPR’s focus on protecting consumer health and safety.
- Restriction of Formaldehyde in construction products
A maximum emission limit for formaldehyde, a substance with a broad application scope, was recently (July 2023) established due to its carcinogenic and mutagenic properties. The restriction does not apply only to indoor air relevant articles, but also all other consumer products, including construction materials. The limits will come into force in August 2026.
Circularity, Life-Cycle, and the Future
Circularity and life-cycle considerations, although mentioned in both regulations, deserve greater emphasis. Highlighting the reuse, recycling, and sustainable disposal of construction materials is imperative for a more sustainable built environment. Integrating these aspects will not only promote environmental responsibility but also foster economic efficiency in the construction sector.
As we reflect on the intricate dance between the Construction Product Regulation (CPR) and the REACH regulation, it becomes evident that the journey towards safer and more sustainable construction practices is an evolving one. The collaboration of these regulations has set the stage for a robust framework, yet challenges and opportunities signal on the horizon.
Moving forward, the construction sector must actively engage in refining and strengthening the integration of CPR and REACH. The potential of the Declaration of Performance (DoP) remains largely untapped, presenting an avenue for deeper synergy between the mechanical and chemical facets of construction products. By unlocking this potential, we pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of product performance, marrying safety with sustainability.
Circularity and life-cycle considerations, hinted at in both regulations, warrant a more central role in the ongoing discourse. Embracing a holistic approach to construction materials, where the end of a product’s life marks the beginning of another, aligns with the broader goals of the European Union towards a circular economy. This vision necessitates collaboration among stakeholders, from manufacturers to policymakers, to create a closed-loop system that minimizes waste and maximizes resource efficiency.
Moreover, as technology advances and new materials emerge, continuous dialogue and adaptation of regulations will be paramount. The EU’s commitment to innovation and adaptability will ensure that the regulatory framework remains a living entity, capable of addressing the challenges posed by ever-evolving construction practices.
In conclusion, the harmonious interplay between CPR and REACH forms the foundation for a safer, more sustainable built environment. The journey, however, is far from over. It is a call to action for all stakeholders, urging them to actively participate in shaping the future of construction regulation. The path ahead holds the promise of safer products, reduced environmental impact, and a construction landscape that not only meets the needs of the present but also safeguards the aspirations of generations yet to come. The NonHazCity 3 project will provide policy recommendations based on the pilots carried out. Watch out for our recommendations to be posted on our project homepage.
 REACH term for solid products, which include construction products
 Including liquid and powdered construction products
Authors: Ioannis Dosis (German Environment Agency), Outi Ilvonen (German Environment Agency)