Monday, 4 June 2007

What have we REACH? … More bureaucracy

After four long years of negotiations and intense lobbying from industry, environmental and consumer groups, last December, the European Parliament and Council agreed on the regulation for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH). This regulation entered into force on 1 June 2007. It will replace the existing 40 legislative texts with a single regulation establishing a single system called REACH. It also creates a new Chemicals Agency, which will be based in Helsinki and will be responsible for the registration and authorisation process of chemicals.

Under the new regulation, chemical producers will be obliged to submit a registration to the Agency of all chemical substances produced or imported above a total quantity of 1 tonne per year. The registration will affect about 30,000 substances. Producers will have to submit a substitution plan to replace more hazardous substances with safer alternatives. If there are no alternative, producers will have to present a research plan aimed at finding one. The burden of proof has now been reversed so it is up to the chemical industry to prove that their substances are safe before they can be put on the market.

The Chemicals Agency will be the central point in the REACH given that it will run the databases necessary to operate the system as well as co-ordinate the in-depth evaluation of suspicious chemicals and run a public database where consumers and professionals can find hazard information.

The European Commission has been developing guidance documents to facilitate REACH implementation. However, according to Euractiv, the United States Council for International Business’s manager for environmental affairs has said that "these guidelines are neither workable nor proportionate.” The European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) already launched the ReachCentrum, to help companies to fulfil the requirements of REACH. The regulation will have a huge impact on the industry – not only on chemical manufacturers but also on users of chemical products. Obviously, business will have additional costs fulfilling REACH requirements. According to industry representatives, REACH will increase bureaucracy and strangle innovation in Europe.

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