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Are Your Conveyor Belts Safe for Humans and the Environment?

Are Your Conveyor Belts Safe for Humans and the Environment?
26 Mar 2024  |
The vast majority of the rubber used to make modern-day conveyor belts is actually synthetic or, at most, contains only a very small amount of natural rubber. There are literally dozens of different components used to create synthetic rubber, including a wide range of different chemicals. 

However, it is the potentially harmful nature of some of those chemicals and the quantities they are used in that presents the big question – are your conveyor belts safe for the health of humans and the environment? Fortunately, there are very strong regulatory control mechanisms in place to provide protection. Here, Dr. Michiel Eijpe, director of innovation and sustainability for Netherlands-based Fenner Dunlop Conveyor Belting, explains the key regulations and why many belt manufacturers and suppliers ignore them.

REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemical substances) regulation EC 1907/2006

REACH regulations stipulate that all European manufacturers are legally obliged to comply with the regulations relating to chemicals, preparations and substances used to create finished products. What REACH does is strictly limit the amounts of certain chemicals that are used in each product, encourage safer substitutions and, in some extreme cases, ban them altogether.

Although not commonly known by consumers, the use of any “substance of very high concern” (SVHC) listed within the regulations must be registered with ECHA (European Chemical Agency) headquarters in Helsinki. For example, if a product contains a SVHC that is more than 0.1% of the total weight of the finished product then the manufacturer is compelled to both register its use with the European Chemicals Agency and provide their customer with a safety datasheet.

One of the biggest concerns involves short-chain chlorinated paraffin’s (SCCP’s). These are commonly used, especially in Asia where these regulations do not apply, to artificially accelerate the vulcanizing process. REACH regulations clearly stipulate that SCCP’s should either not be used at all or at least only used on a very restricted basis because they listed on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) Carcinogen List as “Possible Carcinogens.” The clue to their presence is the strong, pungent aroma whereas good quality rubber usually has very little smell at all.  

Are Your Conveyor Belts Safe for Humans and the Environment?
Good quality rubber usually has very little smell at all.

The formation of nitrosamine gasses is another concern and known to occur when certain types of vulcanisation accelerators are used. Nitrosamine gasses gradually release themselves from rubber belts, which could be a problem when the belts are stored indoors. Nitrosamines are chemical compounds classified as probable human carcinogens based on animal studies. Investigative research is still ongoing but publicly available information from the rubber industry (primarily from within Germany and The Netherlands) indicates that nitrosamine formation can be avoided if the accelerators are replaced by others that do not contain nitrosatable substances. 

EU Regulation No. 2019/1021. Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) pose a serious risk to human health and the environment because they are bioaccumulative* in human and wildlife and toxic to aquatic organisms, even at low concentrations. Regulated worldwide by the Stockholm Convention and the Aarhus Protocol, these international treaties are implemented in the European Union by the POPs Regulation through the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). They are designed to prohibit or severely restrict the production, placing on the market and use of persistent organic pollutants within manufactured products.

(* Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism absorbs a substance at a rate faster than that at which the substance is lost or eliminated) 

Are your belts REACH and POP’s compliant? 

Sadly, most European manufacturers continue to ignore these regulations, either completely or at least partially because it reduces production costs and creates an extremely significant selling price advantage. Of even greater concern are manufacturers located outside of EU member states and the UK because they are not subject to REACH and POP’s regulations. This provides an open door for all who do not comply because they are free to use unregulated raw materials, which cost much less on the global market compared to their regulated counterparts, even though those same materials may be entirely prohibited or at least have strict usage limitations within the European community. 

With raw materials representing some 70% of the cost of producing a conveyor belt it is perhaps understandable but definitely not forgivable. The very least buyers of conveyor belts should be doing is to always ask for a manufacturer’s certificate of origin and written confirmation from the belt manufacturer or supplier that the product you are buying has been produced in compliance with REACH and POP’s regulations. 

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Here at Dunlop, we are very proud of the fact that over the course of our long history, our engineers and technicians have consistently led the world in developing and refining conveyor belts that provide...