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Fit for what? CHEM Trust’s views on the current evaluation of the EU’s main chemicals law REACH

The EU’s REACH chemicals law aims to ensure that  chemicals are safely manufactured and used, so as to protect human health and the environment, at the same time as enhancing innovation and the competitiveness of EU industry. REACH includes requirements on companies to provide – and use – safety information on chemicals, and provides mechanisms to ban or control the use of particularly problematic chemicals.

REACH was passed just over 10 years ago, and came into force in June 2007. It was created after years of debate and investigation, and, like many EU laws, it is reviewed every five years in order to ensure that problems are identified and hopefully solved. The second five year review is underway now, and CHEM Trust have just submitted  our comments to the European Commission’s consultation.

We believe the focus of this review should be on increasing the efficiency of REACH and making it more effective in ensuring environment and health protection, and there are real opportunities to do this.

Our full submission is available as: (i) a briefing explaining our position and (ii) a document including responses to the ‘tick box’ consultation questions.

Here is a summary of our main points:

1) Improvements to registration, where safety data is gathered on chemicals

  • Ensure the knowledge gap is closed: Currently REACH is neither effective nor efficient in ensuring that sufficient information of the requisite quality is compiled in the REACH registration phase, see this comprehensive analysis by German authorities.
    • ECHA should refuse to give registration numbers – or withdraw registration numbers – if dossiers are not complete or of appropriate quality.
    • There needs to be a better enforcement of the obligation on companies to update their dossiers.
  • Ensure identification of all harmful properties: The current REACH Annexes, covering safety testing, should be updated to ensure harmful properties are not overlooked, e.g. on neurodevelopmental toxicity. In 2013 a Danish analysis suggested how to close gaps in identifying hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals.

2) Ensure all relevant substances of very high concern (SVHCs) are identified, and that the Authorisation process controls the use of these substances

  • Ensure that all relevant SVHCs are placed on the candidate list, which lists substances identified as having properties of very high concern.
  • Do not allow continued use of SVHCs if safer alternatives are available.
    • Article 60.2 of REACH should be amended to state that ‘an authorisation shall be granted if there are no suitable alternative substances or technologies and if the risk to human health or the environment … is adequately controlled…’
    • The words “to the applicant´ in article 60.5.b, which currently require the Commission to consider the technical and economic feasibility of substituting for the individual company should be removed. The focus should be on the feasibility for society as a whole; see our blog on PVC & the phthalate DEHP for an example of this issue.
  • Extend authorisation to SVHCs in imported products/articles.

3) Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the process to ban certain uses of substances through a Restriction.

4) Better addressing the risks created by the reality that we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals

  • REACH needs to be further developed to better address mixtures and cumulative exposure. Single substance risk assessment is not adequately protective to account for possible mixture effects, and research has shown that the default uncertainty values that are used are not protective. The project REACH 4M commissioned by the German Environment Agency has developed approaches for how REACH could better address mixture effects in the environment.

5) Make REACH fit to serve a circular economy – see our briefing for more details

  • Speeding up restriction and authorisation procedures, to remove problematic chemicals from the economy as soon as possible.
  • Ensuring all SVHC chemicals are listed in the candidate list, in order to (i) create information flow on their use in articles (ii) encourage manufacturers around the world to move to safer alternatives.

6) More effective action on substances in products

  • Citizens need to be assured that the impacts from harmful chemicals are properly controlled, which is currently still not the case as banned chemicals are still being found in products. There is a need for increased resources for enforcement at national level, focussing in particular on SVHCs and restricted chemicals in consumer articles such as toys.

7) Expand synergies with other EU laws

  • EU rules on chemicals in food contact materials are currently inadequate; REACH could be an important tool in improving these regulations.
  • There is significant potential to increase synergies between REACH and other EU laws, e.g. the link between REACH and the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

More details in our full submission to the consultation: (i) a briefing explaining our position and (ii) a document including responses to the ‘tick box’ consultation questions.

REACH is an important and world-leading policy, but it does have some flaws. We hope that this review process will lead to real improvements in the way REACH works, and consequently reduces the exposure of people and the environment to harmful chemicals.