Identifying the bottlenecks in REACH implementation

Six years after the adoption of REACH [1], which seeks to protect European citizens and the environment from exposure to dangerous chemicals, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ClientEarth are today releasing a damning report on the role that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has played in the implementation of the regulation. The chemicals industry has largely failed to provide the necessary data to make REACH work. ECHA has not only allowed them to do this uncontested, but has also used its resources to keep the public in the dark about it.
The NGOs’ report is being released ahead of the European Commission publication of its own report on the Agency’s performance.

A Registration Audit [2] undertaken by the NGOs between end-2011 and mid-March 2012 found fundamental flaws with the vast majority of substances which have been registered under REACH. Co-author of the report Christian Schaible said “REACH is based on two key legal principles – ‘no data, no market’ and ‘one substance, one registration’. However, our research found that both of these are routinely ignored in the registration of substances.”
After accepting incomplete dossiers the Agency has subsequently failed to use its powers to ask registrants to properly complete and correct them. Very poor quality dossiers including irrelevant information or empty fields which are not compliant with REACH requirements have therefore been accepted by ECHA, which decided to grant registration numbers by default.

Co-Author Vito Buonsante of ClientEarth added “ECHA has already acknowledged that many substances have been inappropriately registered as intermediates by industry in order to avoid information requirements, but our investigation found that on top of this the industry has by and large failed to submit all available test data on substances, as required by REACH. However ECHA is doing little to prevent industry from doing so and is complacent in its compliance checks. Furthermore ECHA is dedicating too little time to work towards the substitution and phase out of hazardous chemicals which European citizens are exposed to every day.” Of even greater concern is that 28 out of the 40 SIN [3] substances of very high concern (SVHC) reviewed have problems with their classification and labelling, thus undermining the possibility for users to understand the health and environmental hazards of substances they are exposed to [4]. Moreover, it is common for different companies to notify ECHA of different levels of classification for the same substances - contrary to REACH principles [5], an example being benzophenone [6].

The report finds that the Agency is shrouded in a culture of secrecy – under pressure from the chemicals industry which claims ‘business confidentiality’ as a means to prevent important information being released [7]. The report finds that ECHA is not only failing in its responsibility to pro-actively disseminate information on chemicals, but more fundamentally is withholding information [8] which it has a responsibility to release in order to guarantee public safety and environmental protection. This is of particular concern in an agency which the European Court of Auditors just last week found to have a number of shortcomings in relation to conflict of interest. This included that conflict of interest statements from current staff were left inside envelopes in personnel files without being reviewed or assessed. [9]


The EEB ClientEarth Publication ‘Identifying the bottlenecks in REACH implementation: The role of ECHA in REACH’s failing implementation’ is available here

Notes to Editors

[1] Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH)

[2] The NGO’s Registration Audit covered classification issues, safe exposure thresholds and the derived occupational exposure limits, safe use comments, endocrine disruption and overall quantity and quality of toxicity data submitted.

[3] Substitute It Now! List of hazardous chemicals recommended for inclusion in Annex XIV by ChemSec

[4] This includes missing, incorrect or incomplete data and incorrect classification in accordance with the CLP Regulation (Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures) criteria.

[5] Differences in the classification and labelling of the same substance applied by different suppliers are not advisable, pointing to the need for further discussion among companies to explore the reasons for differences and/or agree the most correct classification.

[6] This different classification can be seen with the substance benzophenone, used in wood and paper products. While two registrants classify this as a substance ‘toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects’ and ‘causing damage to organs’, and another only as ‘very toxic to aquatic life’ (with both short and long lasting effects), a fourth registrant does not state that it poses any hazard at all.

[7] For example, there was a dispute on which information from the Safety Data Sheets should be public according to REACH. In an attempt to influence the final decision of ECHA's Management Board, a threatening letter was sent by chemical association CEFIC stating that "going beyond its remit exposes unnecessarily the ECHA Management Board and its individual members to tremendous and unprecedented liability risks". See Reuters Report of 11 May 2011:

[8] ECHA has invested considerable efforts in making it harder for civil society to obtain access to information through requests based on Regulation 1049/2001, in some cases violating deadlines set by law. Much of the information in the EEB ClientEarth report was obtained through Access to Documents requests.

[9] European Court of Auditors report on Conflicts of Interest in EU agencies:

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is a federation of over 140 environmental citizens’ organisations based in most EU Member States, most candidate and potential candidate countries as well as in a few neighbouring countries. These organisations range from local and national, to European and international. The EEB’s aim is to protect and improve the environment by influencing EU policy, promoting sustainable development objectives and ensuring that Europe’s citizens can play a part in achieving these goals. The EEB stands for environmental justice and participatory democracy. Our office in Brussels was established in 1974 to provide a focal point for our members to monitor and respond to the EU’s emerging environmental policy.

ClientEarth is an organisation of activist lawyers committed to securing a healthy planet. We work in Europe and beyond, bringing together law, science and policy to create pragmatic solutions to key environmental challenges.

For further information please contact :

Alison Abrahams - EEB Communications Officer: +32 2289 13 09 or 0489304962

Tatiana Santos – EEB Chemicals Policy Officer: +32 (0) 2289 1094 or 0488918597

George Leigh – ClientEarth Communications Officer: +44 203 0305 951 or +44 7446 190 018

Vito Buonsante - Health and environment lawyer: 02 808 34 72

For more info, please contact:

Tatiana SANTOS

Senior Policy Officer: Chemicals & Nanotechnology

+32 (0) 2 289 10 94