Heavy Metals Regulations in the United Kingdom: An Overview

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Heavy Metals Regulations in the United Kingdom

This article covers heavy metal regulations in consumer products sold in the United Kingdom. If you intend to import or manufacture products like the following, then this article is relevant to you:

  • Electronic products
  • Batteries
  • Food contact materials (FCMs)
  • Cosmetics
  • Packaging
  • Toys

This article does not apply to Northern Ireland as they still follow EU regulations.

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What are heavy metals?

In the context of product safety regulations, a heavy metal refers to a chemical element with a specific gravity that is usually more than five times the specific gravity of water.

Examples of regulated heavy metals include the following:

  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Nickel
  • Zinc

Certain heavy metals are regulated across various jurisdictions, including the UK, because of their toxic effect on the human body when exposed to them in certain conditions.

Are heavy metals restricted in the United Kingdom?

It depends on the regulated product, as different regulations might apply to different products. Some heavy metals may be explicitly prohibited for use in a regulated product, and some regulations may just impose substance restrictions for certain heavy metals.

For instance, in the UK, cosmetic products cannot contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium. However, as we explain in subsequent sections, certain products may be placed on the market even if they contain cadmium, provided that they do not exceed specific substance limits (e.g. 0.01%).

Which products and materials may contain heavy metals?

Heavy metals can be found in all sorts of consumer products. For example, paints can contain lead and other heavy metals. The same holds true for alloys, such as zinc alloy.

Further, cosmetics can contain mercury and other heavy metals. As such, heavy metals testing is relevant for most consumer products and materials.

UK REACH

The UK REACH regulations regulate chemicals and heavy metals found in consumer products and mixtures manufactured or imported to the UK market. The regulations cover the registration, evaluation, authorisation, and restriction of certain substances for the sake of safety.

It should be noted that the UK REACH regulations are similar to the EU REACH. For instance, the UK adopted the EU REACH’s list of restrictions. However, with the passing of time, there may be differences as post-Brexit the UK REACH is completely separate from its EU counterpart.

Product scope

The UK REACH regulations cover most chemical substances and heavy metals in their standalone form, in mixtures, and in their form as an article (i.e. consumer products).

Examples of such consumer products include:

  • Electronic products
  • Jewellery
  • Toys
  • Furniture

Heavy metal restrictions

The UK REACH restrictions may limit, ban or set conditions for certain substances. These substances are on the list of restrictions that are managed by the Health and Safety Executive regulatory body.

Here are some common substance restrictions relating to products containing certain specific heavy metals:

a. Cadmium – entry number 23 – restricted to concentration levels of 0.01% for most products

b. Nickel – entry number 27 – there are migration limits for products intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with human skin (e.g. no greater than 0.5 μg/cm²/week for watch straps)

c. Lead – entry number 63 – it is restricted to concentrations levels no greater than 0.05% by weight for certain products (e.g. wrist watches and wristwear)

Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations

The Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2012 (UK RoHS) relates to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). The UK RoHS’s purpose is to control concentration levels of certain hazardous substances and chemicals found in EEE products.

Product scope

The UK RoHS covers most EEE products, cables, and spare parts such as:

  • Electric and electronic tools
  • Electronic toys
  • Electronic sports equipment
  • IT and telecommunications equipment
  • Other electronics

Heavy metal restrictions

Regulation 3(1) of the UK RoHS states that EEE products placed on the market must not contain the substances listed in Schedule A1. It should be noted that the regulation does not refer back to EU RoHS Annex II, unlike the case for Northern Ireland.

Thus, here are some heavy metals that are restricted to certain maximum concentration values tolerated by weight in homogeneous materials under UK RoHS:

  • Lead (0.1%)
  • Mercury (0.1%)
  • Cadmium (0.01%)
  • Hexavalent chromium (0.1%)

However, do note that exemptions for certain applications do exist and can be found in schedule A2 of the UK RoHS.

Toys (Safety) Regulations

In the UK, the Toy (Safety) Regulations 2011 sets essential safety requirements that importers and manufacturers must observe. Additionally, there are particular safety requirements relating to substances like heavy metals in toys.

The regulations refer to the EU Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys, and it is in this legislative instrument that you would find more details, including heavy metal restrictions.

Product scope

Some product categories that fall under the ambit of the regulations include the following:

  • Electronic toys
  • Educational toys
  • Plush toys
  • Arts and crafts

Heavy metal restrictions

As previously mentioned, there are particular safety requirements that are found in Annex II of the EU Toy Safety Directive. The following migration limits, for toys or components of toys, should not be exceeded:

Element mg/kg in dry, brittle, powder-like or pliable toy material mg/kg in liquid or sticky toy material mg/kg in scraped-off toy material
Aluminium 2 250 560 28 130
Boron 1 200 300 15 000
Cadmium 1,3 0,3 17
Lead 2,0 0,5 23
Manganese 1 200 300 15 000
Nickel 75 18,8 930
Zinc 3 750 938 46 000

The Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations

In the UK, there are regulations concerning food contact materials (FCMs) in the UK. FCMs are those that are intended to come into contact with food or are reasonably expected to be brought into contact with food. FCMs may include heavy metals and as such are regulated.

Pre-Brexit, the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2012 (National Regulations) brought the UK in line were in line with EU FCM legislation rules. Although the legislation has “England” attached to its title, the National Regulations apply to the United Kingdom.

Post-Brexit, the UK continues to keep up with EU FCM-related rules by virtue of the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

In subsequent sections, some EU-retained FCM legislation will be highlighted, including their provisions relating to heavy metals.

Product scope

The National Regulations 2012 and its retained EU regulations cover most FCMs including:

  • Lunchboxes
  • Electronic kitchen appliances
  • Drinkware
  • Stainless steel bottles
  • Cutlery
  • Bowls
  • Jugs
  • Tableware

Plastic FCM: Regulation 10/2011

This legislation regulates plastic FCMs, including containing provisions that relate to heavy metals. Annex II contains restrictions on plastic materials and articles. The substance migration limits (mg/kg food or food simulant) for some of the following heavy metals are provided below:

  • Aluminium < 1 mg/kg
  • Copper < 5mg/kg
  • Iron < 48 mg/kg
  • Lithium < 0.6 mg/kg
  • Nickel < 0.02 mg/kg

Ceramics

Although the National Regulations reference EU Directive 84/500/EEC, the former regulations provide specific provisions for ceramic articles.

Specifically, they restrict the migration limits of lead and cadmium which can be observed in article 10, part 4 of the requirements for ceramic articles. They also reference testing methods for evaluating the migration limits.

Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations

The Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008 as amended amongst other functions restrict substances used in batteries and accumulators, including heavy metals.

Product scope

The legislation covers most batteries of various physical appearances and associated appliances. Additionally, all appliances into which the battery is or may be incorporated are affected by the regulation.

Heavy metal restrictions

Here are some common heavy metals regulated by this regulation and their restrictions:

a) Most batteries that contain more than 0.0005% of mercury by weight can not be placed in the market. However, a button cell containing more than 0.0005% of mercury by weight unless it is marked with the chemical symbol “Hg”

b) Most portable batteries that contain more than 0.002% of cadmium by weight can not be placed on the market. However, a battery containing more than 0.002% of cadmium by weight unless it is marked with the chemical symbol “Cd”

c) A battery containing more than 0.004% of lead by weight unless it is marked with the chemical symbol “Pb”

Regulation (EC) No 2009/1223 and the Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regulations

This regulation affects cosmetic products placed on the UK market. Here are some of the requirements that importers and manufacturers must follow:

a. Ensuring that the product has gone through a safety assessment prior to being placed on the market

b. Compiling and keeping a product information file

c. Performing a sampling and analysis of the product

d. Adhering to notification requirements

e. Adhering to labelling requirements

Note that for cosmetic products contained in aerosol dispensers, importers and manufacturers of such products would also have to adhere to the Aerosol Dispensers Regulations 2009.

Product scope

The following are some products that may be affected by the regulation:

  • Deodorants and antiperspirants
  • Hair cleansing products (like lotions, powders, and shampoos)
  • Products for making up and removing make-up
  • Products intended for application to the lips
  • Products for nail care and make-up
  • Anti-wrinkle products

Heavy metal restrictions

Annex II of the regulation contains substances that are prohibited, including heavy metals. Here are some heavy metals that are prohibited in cosmetic products:

  • Lead and its compounds
  • Cadmium and its compounds
  • Mercury and its compounds (however, Annex V contains exemptions for certain uses of mercury)
  • Arsenic and its compounds
  • Antimony and its compounds

The regulation also contains substance restrictions, including heavy metal restrictions, in Annex III and other provisions that relate to the use of colourants, preservatives, and UV filters.

The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations

The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015 ensure that products meet necessary levels of safety, can be reused or recovered, and minimises the products’ noxious or hazardous substances released from incineration or landfill.

All in all, the regulations encourage importers and manufacturers to consider the environmental impact of their packaging system.

Product scope

The following are some packaging products covered by the regulations:

  • Clothes hangers (sold with a clothing product)
  • Paper or plastic carrier bags (used at the point of sale)
  • Cling film (used at the point of sale)
  • Items forming part of the packaging like staples and plastic sleeves

Heavy metal restrictions

The regulations set essential requirements for importers and manufacturers when placing packaging materials in the UK, including ensuring that such products do not exceed heavy metal concentration limits.

For example, concentration levels of the following heavy metals or a combination of such metals in most packaging or packaging components should not exceed 100ppm by weight:

  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury
  • Hexavalent chromium

Lab Testing

Here are some relevant lab testing companies that would be able to test your products for heavy metals as per some of the regulations presented above:

  • SGS
  • Intertek
  • Eurofins
  • (USA & EU)

    We Help Brands & Importers With Product Compliance (US & EU)

    • Product Requirements Lists
    • Product Certification
    • Product & Packaging Labeling
    • Lab Testing

    BOOK A FREE CONSULTATION


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