Plant & Works Engineering

Trike warning

Published:  30 June, 2007

Over half of companies who use carcinogenic solvent trichloroethylene are putting themselves and their staff at risk, by failing to prepare for the Solvent Emissions Directive (SED), which comes into force on October 31 2007. This is the stark warning by Clive Ward, general manager of the Clean-Tek product range at surface preparation specialists Wheelabrator Group.

The SED restricts emissions from organic solvents, such as trichloroethylene, more commonly known as 'trike', to limit worker exposure and protect health. In the UK, trike has been used for industrial component cleaning for many years, frequently in open top vapour degreasing tanks, some over 40 years old.

Mr Ward highlighted: "When the SED was passed by the EU in 1999 it gave businesses eight years to implement changes, but a staggering number of companies still haven't done anything about it and the clock is ticking."
The SED is the latest in a series of steps, clamping down on the use of trike. The EU reclassified the solvent as a category two carcinogen in June 2001, requiring UK companies to treat it as such under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations (COSHH).

Under COSHH employers must consider whether it is reasonably practical to prevent exposure to trike, by switching to an alternative substance or format, and if not, whether they can enclose the process completely.
Companies failing to comply with the emission limits set under the SED will face investigation and possible prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive. Firms may also face increasing compensation claims for associated health problems from affected employees, as well as hefty fines.
Ward warned: "This new legislation is the latest in a pattern by authorities restricting the use of trike and future developments are likely to limit its use further.

"Now is the time for employers to evaluate their long-term use of the solvent. Firms committed to the wellbeing of staff will recognise this as an opportunity to eradicate solvents from their operation and seek alternative methods. Aqueous cleaning, for example, is no longer the costly process it once was and is highly effective at removing grease, oil, dust, tar, carbon, dirt and other contaminants."
Aqueous systems help companies minimise the environmental impact of their operations, by using 95 % water and 5 % aqueous non-hazardous detergent.
Ward continued: "For many businesses, the SED will be the single biggest threat to their survival. They must make crucial decisions about their long-term use of trike now and not leave it to the last minute, when it may be too late to avoid prosecution."

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Heat set web offset printing


Publication rotogravure


Other rotogravure, flexography, rotary screen printing, laminating or varnishing units


Rotary screen printing on textile/cardboard


Surface cleaning using compounds described in Article 5.6 or 5.8 of the SED


Surface cleaning not using compounds described in Article 5.6 or 5.8 of the SED


Vehicle coating (<15 tonnes per year) and vehicle refinishing


Coil coating


Other coating, including metal, plastic, textile, fabric, film and paper coating


Winding wire coating


Coating of wooden surfaces


Dry cleaning


Wood impregnation


Coating of leather


Footwear manufacture


Wood and plastic lamination


Adhesive coating


Manufacture of coating preparations, varnishes, inks and adhesives


Rubber conversion


Vegetable oil and animal fat extraction and vegetable oil refining


Manufacturing of pharmaceutical products


Coating of new cars


Coating of new truck cabins


Coating of new vans and trucks


Coating of new buses



What does the Directive require industry to do?


In general, activities operated above the solvent consumption threshold will need to either:

Meet an emission limit value in waste gases and a fugitive emission limit value; or meet the total emission limit value; or

Implement a solvent reduction scheme to reduce emissions from the installation equal to those that would be achieved by meeting the total emission limit value.

There are stricter requirements for those activities using potentially more harmful substances such as halogenated VOCs which are assigned the risk phrase R40 or VOCs that are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction and which carry the risk phrase R45, R46, R49, R60 or R61.

What are solvents and why limit their emissions?

Organic solvents are chemicals used in paints, inks and adhesives. They are used for the application of a film of paint, ink or adhesive onto a surface, after which they evaporate to leave a decorated, printed or adhered finish. Solvents are used extensively to clean surfaces prior to coating and to remove greases and soils, for instance during manufacturing. Because of their wide ranging uses, the Solvent Emissions Directive applies to a cross-section of industry sectors from printing to dry cleaners.

Their emissions need to be controlled because many solvents undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere, which cause a number of indirect effects, in particular the formation of ozone. Elevated concentrations of ozone in air can impair human health and can damage some building materials, forests, vegetation and crops. The Directive also targets some specific compounds for control because they are directly harmful to human health or the environment.

What does the Directive do?

The aim of the SED is to prevent or reduce the effects of VOCs in the environment (mainly into air) and the potential human health risks, by solvent-based activities adopting specific actions and procedures set out in the Directive.

A list of sectors covered and their minimum threshold values specified in the SED is set out in the table 1.