A number of plastics associations in Europe and the U.S. hope to derail a proposed fire safety standard for wire and cable in the European Union that they said effectively would ban the use of PVC and fluorinated plastics in cable insulation from the European market.
Sources estimate that 4 billion linear feet of cable is sold annually in Europe, with PVC accounting for more than half of those sales. Exports from the U.S account for just a small portion.
``It's what we call a technical barrier to trade,'' because it would ban products through trade regulation, not legislation, said Karen Toliver, vice president of international affairs and trade counsel for the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Last month's proposal, part of the EU Construction Products Directive, calls for an acidity test to determine the fire rating of those products. The directive aims to bring uniformity to all the national regulations and standards in France, Germany and Italy.
Although PVC-coated cable meets the highest standards for flame resistance and low-smoke emissions, it would fail the acidity test, Toliver said in a late-April phone interview.
Gary Stanitis, senior market development representative for Orangeburg, N.Y.-based Daikin America Inc., criticized the testing standard.
``It is completely inappropriate because there is no fire science behind the standard,'' said Stanitis, an engineer by training who has been involved in the plastics industry for more than 25 years. ``It is a very contrived arrangement,'' because it does not measure major toxins, such as carbon dioxide, that are released when burned. Stanitis is also chairman of the wire and cable section of the SPI's Fluoropolymers Division.
SPI is not alone in its efforts to exclude the fire acidity test from the proposal.
Japan, Mexico and the Philippines also have expressed reservations about the proposal, which now goes to the European Standards & Construction Committee for consideration, with a final decision expected before year-end.
In addition, the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers, PlasticsEurope and European Plastics Converters all have urged the commission to reconsider the proposal but have not taken any formal action yet.
If the proposal is enacted, ``any EU member state will be allowed to impose the no-acidity criterion for cables used in specific building and construction applications,'' said Martyn Griffiths, spokesman for ECVM, which is based in Brussels, Belgium.
The groups are not concerned that the standard will spread to the United States, as U.S. fire safety requirements urge the use of brominated flame retardants and halogenated resins. But they are worried that the standard could spread across other World Trade Organization countries and be extended to other building and construction materials and automotive markets.
Toliver said SPI is ``concerned about the precedent this would establish, as other trading partners often adopt standards'' developed by other countries.
``This could expand into other sectors and into other countries,'' she said.
SPI has urged U.S. trade representatives to raise the matter with trade officials in the EU, she said.