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Simplification proposals for EU chemicals law REACH could increase chemical risks (updated with letter to Commissioner)

One of the main objectives of the EU’s REACH chemical regulation system is to provide a high level of protection for people and the environment. A key part of this system is the authorisation process, which incentivises companies that are using the most problematic chemicals to move to safer alternatives. The European Commission have just been consulting on two ways in which this system can be ‘simplified’, and CHEM Trust is concerned about the potential impacts of aspects of this simplification.

The authorisation process starts with the identification of substances of very high concern (SVHC), for example chemicals that accumulate in our bodies, or are carcinogens or hormone disrupting. Deadlines are then set by which companies must apply for continued use of these chemicals, if they can’t find safer alternatives. A recent conference concluded that authorisation is working overall, but there are continuing arguments about the availability of alternatives for some chemicals, for example the phthalate DEHP, used in PVC.

The European Commission has been looking at ways to ‘simplify’ authorisation, and has just finished a consultation on two particular issues: (i) where a company uses a “low volume” of a substance subject to authorisation; and (ii) when a substance is used in “legacy spare parts”.

CHEM Trust’s full response to the consultation is available here, the main points we make are:

  • Low volume substances: The Commission is proposing that those companies using low volumes of chemicals subject to authorisation should provide less information and have fewer obligations. In our view this could result in greater use of SVHCs, due to less incentive to develop and use safer alternatives. In addition, we argue that the Commission gives no evidence to back the thresholds that they propose, and that in the past, potential exposure of consumers to SVHCs has often been significantly underestimated
  • Legacy spare parts: The Commission is proposing to simplify procedures for authorisation of SVHC use in legacy spare parts. We express our concern about the lack of clarity in the Commission’s definition of key terms in their proposal, and make it clear that any definition of spare parts must be very narrowly defined to ensure that there are no loopholes. There should also be no provision to allow new uses of SVHCs as part of this procedure.

This submission has been covered by ENDS Europe and Food Packaging Forum.

Update

On 20th May, CHEM Trust joined with other NGOs to send a letter to the EU Commissioners responsible for Growth and Environment, asking them to end the informal ‘freeze’ on adding new chemicals to the authorisation process in REACH. Some Commission staff have argued that this freeze is needed until the simplification measures discussed above have been implemented.

This letter has been covered by ENDS Europe and Chemical Watch.