No Data, No Market: the EU Gets Serious About Chemicals

ECHA conference centre photo

Image: ECHA

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has announced the start of the first REACH enforcement project. REACH = Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of CHemicals. One goal of the enforcement project is to check if any chemicals are still coming onto the market in the European Union which were not registered by the 1 December 2008 deadline. Registered substances, also known as phase-in substances, may continue to be sold while manufacturers gather and submit the required test data to prove that use and sale of their chemicals is safe. But companies that somehow missed the deadline will be in for a surprise: the law promises that any chemicals which are not registered may not be sold. Only after all data is gathered and submitted can these chemicals once again be sold in Europe. No data, no market.

A tear-jerking video explaining why the EU acted to implement REACH, and how REACH is expected to be the first law to really guarantee consumers protection from harmful chemicals, has been distributed by the cleverly named YouTube user eutube:
Video: YouTube, eutube

For those of you unable to watch the video, it tells the story of several young workers in the textile industry in Spain who died after exposure to dyes, and their mothers who continue to fight in the memory of their fallen children. Spanish fashion giant Mango discusses the impact of REACH on the textiles business. (Mango has implemented a voluntary program to replace the most toxic dyes with less harmful substitutes.) Representatives of the EU review the potential exposure of consumers to harmful products, standing behind their data that medical and other costs related to chemical exposure are ten times higher than the cost to industry of complying with REACH.

Small and medium size businesses continue to claim that REACH is too burdensome and will limit competitiveness of the EU due to the advantage it creates for the major chemical companies with large compliance departments. It remains to be seen whether the first round of enforcement will mercifully permit the latecomers to join the party of phase-in chemicals--or whether they will be left out in the cold, losing access to the EU market until years of bureaucratic paperwork can be finalized.

Meanwhile, many companies of all sizes are reporting difficulty in forming the so-called Substance Information Exchange Fora (SIEFs), where large and small companies are supposed to share data, costs and responsibilities when they sell the same chemical, prompting ECHA to publish a Top Tips Factsheet on SIEFs. Properly functioning SIEFs are critical, not least to ensure that test data already available private company files gets used and new testing on animals is minimized.

The EU's REACH legislation has put pressure on other jurisdictions to increase surveillance of harmful chemicals. In the US, EPA has announced that they will pick up the pace of the ChAMP program, which relies mainly on data submitted voluntarily by industry. If you have always thought the government keeps you and your loved ones safe from dangerous products, you may have thought wrong. But thinking right starts now.

More on REACH Chemicals Legislation
ECHA Press Release: First Coordinated REACH Enforcement Project Started
Race to REACH: Chemicals Illegal in Europe if Not Registered by 1 December
REACH for Greener Chemistry

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