Obsolete chemicals will remain on EU market unless chemicals law tightened, warns new report

Press Release


Brussels, 8 December 2015

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has published a new report today (8 December 2015) showing that the EU chemicals legislation REACH is delivering, but that unless the regulation is better enforced, it will never achieve its aim of removing harmful chemicals from the market. A Roadmap to Revitalise REACH shows that one part of the regulation that is vital to achieving these aims is the authorisation process that was introduced to ensure the substitution of substances of very high concern (SVHC) by safer alternatives.

Tatiana Santos, EEB Senior Policy Officer for Chemicals and co-author of the report, said:

REACH, the European chemicals legislation was revolutionary when it was introduced and is bringing about many positive changes. However, unless the authorisation process is properly implemented, REACH will not meet its goal of removing chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment from the market.”

She added:

Many companies in Europe are leading the way to find alternatives to harmful chemicals and they, rather than those businesses that are lagging behind and finding ways to keep obsolete substances on the market, should be rewarded. In this way, REACH will not only be beneficial for human health and the environment, but also help boost the European Commission’s jobs and growth agenda.”

The report comes out two days before a meeting of the European Commission’s REACH Committee where critical discussions were expected on a number of authorisation related issues.

These included decisions on whether the chemical DEHP, which is used in recycled PVC items and is known to have endocrine disrupting effects, and lead chromates in paints, known to be carcinogenic and toxic for reproduction, would be authorised for continued use. The European Parliament recently passed a non-binding Resolution calling on the Commission not to authorise the recycling of plastics containing DEHP. However, all decisions on authorisation have again been postponed at the last minute, confirming EEB concerns about an unacceptable slowdown in the implementation of REACH. [1]

Moreover, the Commission has dragged its feet in the authorisation process and will not meet its commitment to restart in 2015 the process of listing SVHC to be regulated, as this discussion has also been removed from the agenda. This means that European citizens and the environment will continue to be unnecessarily exposed to substances of very high concern. [2]

The main findings of the report are:

  • Authorisation has started to deliver and the listing of hazardous chemicals (Candidate List) is an important driver to encourage companies to replace substances of very high concern (SVHC) with safer alternatives.
  • However, the slow pace of implementation of authorisation by the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the manner in which is it approached is preventing REACH from reaching its ultimate goal of protecting people from dangerous substances. Ironically, previous efforts by the Commission to ‘simplify’ the process as part of its Better Regulation agenda have actually made it harder to effectively implement REACH.
  • The decision by the Commission and ECHA to grant (or recommend) all applications for authorisation apparently by default, even when safer alternatives are known to be available or when the analysis of alternatives is inadequate, undermines the authorisation process, supports a "business-as-usual" approach by which authorisations become permits to pollute, and creates an economic disadvantage for companies that have invested in safer alternatives.
  • ECHA’s risk assessment and socio-economic analysis committees (RAC and SEAC) need to improve their assessments of the applications for authorisation and in particular stop doing the work of applicants when they submit faulty applications.
  • The Commission should focus more on achieving substitution, the main goal of the authorisation process, as well as on improving its implementation as a whole by making it more efficient instead of favouring certain sectors, namely those that lobby hardest, and making it easier and cheaper for companies producing and using obsolete chemicals to get authorisations for the continued use of SVHC.

For more information contact:

Philippa Nuttall Jones, EEB Senior Communications Officer,, 0032 (0) 4 71 57 01 81

Tatiana Santos, EEB Senior Policy Officer on Chemicals and Nanomaterials,, 0032 (0) 2289 1094

Notes for editor:

[1] The following authorisation issues were due to have been discussed at the REACH Committee meeting:

  • A discussion on the amendment of Annex XIV to REACH (Addition of substances from the 5th and 6th ECHA Recommendation of priority chemicals to be regulated totalling 20 substances of very high concern to be added to the Authorisation List)
  • A discussion on the implementing act on the simplification of applications for authorisation concerning uses in low volumes and discussion on the implementing act amending the Fee Regulation (simplified AfAs)
  • A discussion on the implementing decision on the identification of DEHP, DBP, BBP and DIBP as substances of very high concern according to Article 57(f) REACH
  • A discussion on the authorisation decisions concerning DEHP, DBP and lead chromates.

[2] The European Commission previously removed these issues from the agenda of the December meeting.