Self-control for EU chemical industry

The regulations governing the European Union's chemical industry are set to undergo a drastic change, with special emphasis being laid on self-regulation. This shift in focus was apparent in the draft of the EU's new chemical legislation, which was released recently by the European Commission

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Wallstrom: better rules within (Credit: EC)the regulations governing the European Union's (eu) chemical industry are set to undergo a drastic change, with special emphasis being laid on self-regulation. This shift in focus was apparent in the draft of the eu's new chemical legislation, which was released recently by the European Commission (ec). Termed reach -- an acronym for registration, evaluation, authorisation of chemicals -- it would replace 40 different rules that are in force in the region currently.

While delivering the keynote address, eu environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom highlighted the aspect. "In the future, the chemical industry will be responsible for generating and providing necessary information about its own products in line with corporate responsibility," she pointed out.

reach is an outcome of a 'White Paper on the Strategy for a Future Chemicals Policy', which was prepared in 2001. It proposes to make the chemical industry responsible for providing proof of the safety of its products. At present the onus is placed on the public authorities. reach has also changed the process by which old and new chemicals would be registered in the eu. Authorisation will now be mandatory for certain hazardous chemicals.

According to business impact assessment estimates, the total direct cost of registration and testing to the industry would be around us $1.64 billion. The indirect cost could range from us $15.6 billion to us $29 billion up to 2020. The new legislation stipulates that all companies manufacturing or importing chemicals above one tonne per annum will have to get themselves registered. They will have to furnish information such as properties and hazards of each chemical, along with an assessment of risks to the health and environment.

At the evaluation stage, member states will examine the registration data. Authorisation will be done only for chemicals that are cmrs (carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic to reproduction), pbts (persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic) and vpvbs (very persistent, very bio-accumulative). The ec aims to include all chemicals in reach within 11 years. Significantly, close to 90 per cent chemicals in the eu are not registered because they entered the market before 1981 when regulations were introduced.

Wallstrom stressed that the new law would make a major contribution towards the protection of human health and the environment, and will close today's unacceptable knowledge gap. For all the commission's optimism, the industry -- both within the bloc and outside it -- harbours strong reservations about the draft legislation. The eu companies feel that the proposed system is unworkable and will have a negative impact on their competitiveness in the global market. They further allege that reach deviates from the original objectives mentioned in the white paper.

Environmental groups have, on the whole, endorsed the new legislation. But the dropping of two clauses has rankled them. Firstly the section on the phasing out of hazardous chemicals wherever alternatives are available, has been deleted. And, secondly, the principle of public right to information has been dispensed with.

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