The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has recently concluded a legal case on the environmental classification of coal tar pitch high temperature (CTPHT), a substance essential for aluminum and steel production. The ECJ rejected the environmental classification of CTPHT as very toxic to aquatic environment.

It is a major achievement for Coal Chemicals Europe that represents European Producers of chemicals derived from coal tar distillation. Indeed, CTPHT producers had been in dispute with the European Commission over the legal case since 2013. The European Commission took its decision based on the opinion of European Chemical Agency (ECHA)’s Risk Assessment Committee (RAC). In 2015, the General Court had already annulled the European Commission’s Regulation setting mandatory aquatic toxicity classification for CTPHT, but the Commission appealed against it. Thus, the Regulation entered into force in April 2016 and was applicable until the ECJ dismissed the appeal in November 2017.

The main reasoning behind the ECJ’s decision is that RAC did not take into account all relevant facts on the substance such as its very low solubility. On the contrary, the Member State Rapporteur postulated that the substance had a 100% solubility. Bridging principles, which allow decision-makers to take into account relevant factors even if not listed in the legislation, as foreseen by the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulation were also ignored.

The ECJ ruling is a final one and cannot be appealed anymore. The Commission will have to update the Regulation on CTPHT classification. It also means that CTPHT suppliers can claim legal costs and seek compensation for damages suffered during the period when the classification was applicable.