REACH Review; too little too late
[Brussels, 5 February 2013] A review done by the European Commission of the EU’s principal chemicals regulation (REACH), released today after 8 months delay, has received a critical reception from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Five outstanding problems (1) were expected to be examined under the REACH review. Of these, two were simply postponed and despite problems being highlighted in all the other three, no action is proposed to start resolving them.
The Commission review contains only a limited assessment of the European Chemicals Agency´s (ECHA) functioning, focusing only on its effectiveness, efficiency and economy. It does not take into account major concerns about the Agency’s progress in achieving REACH´s main goals, as well as its commitment to its own stated values of transparency, independence, trustworthiness and to well-being, as identified in the NGO report “Identifying the bottlenecks in REACH implementation; The role of ECHA in REACH’s failing implementation.”(2).
“It is deeply worrying that the Commission decided to measure ECHA’s effectiveness by the number of papers shuffled, rather than by the number of dangerous carcinogenic substances taken off the EU market”, said Tatiana Santos Senior Policy Officer for Chemicals and Nanotechnology at the European Environmental Bureau.
Despite the fact that the Commission has itself acknowledged in the review (3) the poor quality of the data submitted by chemical companies under REACH, it has failed to propose any measures to address this through more demanding registration dossier compliance measures. The EEB also condemns the EC’s failure to promote the substitution of hazardous chemicals and green chemistry as a driver of innovation and a way out of the economic crisis.
With this review, the Commission could have increased the requirements for the registration of substances produced in quantities between 1 and 10 tonnes per year by compelling companies to submit a Chemical Safety Report (CSR)(4) to register it. However, the Commission, based on “insufficient information on the impact on innovation and competitiveness” has decided to postpone the decision until 2015.
“Perilously little is known about the effects of nanomaterials. As these are manufactured at such low volumes that risk assessments are not required for them, they are simply unregulated”, states Santos. “The Commission missed a golden opportunity here to properly address nanomaterials through the REACH Regulation”.
Reviewing REACH implementation, the Commission proposes applying an additional ‘risk based approach’ to identifying substances of very high concern (SVHCs, the list of the most hazardous chemicals in Europe). This is in violation of the rules of REACH and will further slow down the process of identifying dangerous substances to which citizens are exposed.
“There are still just 138 very hazardous substances identified, far too few. In reality there are 1,000 to 1,500 on the market” states Tatiana Santos. She added “The Commission intended to include all of them in the candidate list by 2020, yet at this pace we will have to wait until 2060 to see a comprehensive list”
A key aspect of the review was whether or not the scope of REACH should be adapted to avoid overlaps with other relevant EU provisions. In the event, the Commission merely “invites ECHA to change guidance [to companies], if appropriate”. The EEB encourages the Commission to consider how information generated by REACH should be effectively used to inform other pieces of legislation such as the Water Framework Directive.
Finally, the EEB supports the Commission’s efforts to relieve SMEs of unnecessary administrative burden but only on the strict condition that they do not undermine the REACH goals of protecting of health, the environment and transparency.
(1) In accordance with REACH, the Commission must report on the experience acquired with its operation and review the requirements relating to registration of low-tonnage substances, to report on the need, if any, to register certain types of polymers, to assess whether or not to amend the scope of REACH to avoid overlaps with other relevant Union provisions and to carry out a review of ECHA. Articles 75(2), 117(4), 138(2), 138 (3) and 138 (6).
(2) EEB and ClientEarth. October 2012. Available at: http://www.eeb.org/EEB/?LinkServID=53B19853-5056-B741-DB6B33B4D1318340
(3) REACH review, pages 4 and 5
(4) The CSRs include risk assessments for health and the environment according to the different intended uses of the substance (exposure scenarios).
(5) European Commission Press Release on the REACH review