Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation.
Back in 1998, during the UK Presidency of the EU, environmental NGOs, industry and governments alike, all agreed that something had to be done because the then current EU chemicals legislation was inadequate in so many ways. Therefore, a review of the EU legislation on industrial chemicals was initiated.
The European Commission came up with proposed new legislation called REACH. The main aim of this was to protect humans, wildlife and the environment from the threat of chemicals, whilst not undermining the competitiveness of the chemical industry.
There were 2 priorities that the new legislation needed to address. Firstly, to make a level playing field for old and new chemicals so that they had the same degree of testing. This would remove the ‘squatters rights' of old chemicals to stay on the market just because they had been around for a long time. Secondly, to make industry more responsible for the chemicals they produce and for them to be responsible for adequate testing. This is often termed ‘reversal of the burden of proof', making industry check that chemicals are safe for use and discharge, prior to being allowed to use them. Again, this had not been the current norm.
REACH was finalised in December 2006 and came into force in June 2007, some nine years since first mooted. It is widely stated that it is the most contentious piece of legislation ever to go through the EU. The chemical industry lobbied against it in a most unprecedented way.
The REACH we have today is but a shadow of the original Commission proposal. The chemical industry weakened it so much that they can still use highly suspect chemicals even if a safer alternative exists. Further, REACH severely limits the use of the precautionary approach in dealing with hormone disrupting chemicals. Serious effects have to be ‘probable' before they can be subject to tough controls. And even then, the availability of a safer alternative can not, by itself, be reason enough to prevent the use of such a chemical. This seems madness but is the reality.
CHEM Trust continues to work on REACH - trying to ensure it is implemented to protect the environment - by sitting on expert groups and lobbying for it to be made more robust.
Within the next six years there will be a review to see what changes need to be made to the way hormone disruptors are included within REACH. CHEM Trust believes that many changes are needed. These include a) acceptance that there may not be a safe level of exposure for a particular chemical, and therefore the need to phase them out if a safer alternative exists. This particularly applies to endocrine or hormone disrupting chemicals or chemicals that may, for example, affect children's brain development; b) an approach that adequately takes into account the multiple simultaneous exposures to chemicals to which we are all subjected from the cocktail of chemicals in our environment.
We are working towards this goal. From now until 2012, we aim to show that basing chemicals regulation on good science shows that such changes are necessary in order to protect humans and wildlife. We will work to highlight that the scientific evidence linking exposure to certain chemicals with many adverse disease trends and defects is un-dismissible.
CHEM Trust is also actively working to ensure that persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals are adequately address under REACH. These chemicals are the ones that can be passed down the generations, from mother to offspring in the womb, and therefore need to be phased out wherever safer alternatives are available.
Unfortunately, the implementation of REACH is going very slowly, and barely more than a handful of chemicals have been put forward for the stricter controls. It seems that chemicals are not now judged to be a big issue by EU governments, who are not providing sufficient funding to their regulatory agencies in order to effectively tackle the most worrying chemicals and bring them under tougher control.
REACH is a new European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). It deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. The new law entered into force on 1 June 2007.