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REACH review: safer chemicals, but still work to be done
In March 2018, the European Commission’s second REACH review was published. It concluded that the regulation is effective, but there is still room for improvement. We spoke with Ms Cristina de Avila, Head of Unit for Sustainable Chemicals at DG Environment and Mr Michael Flüh, Head of Unit for REACH at DG Growth – Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs and asked about the main achievements and challenges ahead – as well as potential new tasks for ECHA.
The review concludes positively about the impact of the EU's main chemicals legislation. Where do you see the main benefits of REACH?
Cristina de Avila.
Cristina de Avila, Head of Unit for Sustainable Chemicals, DG ENV:
We now have studies that show that the benefits of REACH are vast. Out of the many benefits listed by the REACH review, I think that improved risk management is one of the main achievements of the legislation.
We are now considerably more capable of introducing risk management measures and able to better address the risks posed by chemicals to human health and the environment.
There is a fundamental link between the information gathering done by companies and the capacity of authorities to take risk management measures based on this information.
For the general public, improved access to information on chemicals, freely available on ECHA’s website, is a great benefit.
Michael Flüh, Head of Unit for REACH, DG GROW:
REACH has enabled us to generate very comprehensive data about the safety of chemical substances, which is also beneficial for the industry – they now have much better knowledge about the safe use of their substances. Industry is also responsible for passing on this information throughout their supply chains, which leads to better transparency. This increases knowledge on the safe use of substances and also brings benefits to workers, the environment and consumers.
We know that REACH is a significant investment for industry, but in the long term, we expect that it will pay off. We can see the advantages, for example, clear signs of substitution to safer chemicals in the EU. Gathering data on chemicals can be a driver for innovation and investing in safer substances.
Also consumers are starting to show more confidence in the safety of chemical products produced in the EU. The recent Eurobarometer study confirms this.
There are also many areas where improvements are needed. What are the main challenges?
Cristina de Avila:
The review lists many challenges. One example of this is related to substances in articles. But most importantly, I would highlight the compliance with registration obligations, as the registration data impacts all other REACH processes: communication in the supply chain, evaluation, restrictions and authorisation.
The registration information is vital for helping companies identify risk management measures and recommend them to those using the substances, but is also important for enabling authorities to screen substances and address those of most concern. Improving this area is fundamental for making REACH work better.
One core issue is authorisation, which is not yet working ideally. The process should be more efficient: more predictable for industry and more manageable for ECHA, Member States and the Commission. In the long run, it will foster competitiveness and innovation, but we need to make sure that the investments for companies are feasible, manageable and cost-efficient.
We also need to ensure a level playing field exists between EU-based companies and companies in third countries, so that products from third countries also comply with EU standards and meet the same safety requirements. Enforcement and controls of imported products play a key role here. A further challenge is to support small and medium-sized enterprises to meet their REACH obligations for the registration deadline and also beyond that.
How do you see ECHA becoming a 'European and global reference centre for the sustainable management of chemicals'?
ECHA is already now a recognised authority in the field of chemical safety. Its future tasks could relate, for example, to occupational safety and health or waste legislation. New tasks would require a careful assessment of staff and resources necessary, which should be mindful of the budgetary constraints in the current context.
The large database on chemicals could be used even more by industry to look for alternatives to substitute hazardous substances. The data on chemicals should also be explored for other areas, such as circular economy.
Cristina de Avila:
ECHA could use its expertise on chemicals to give scientific advice on chemical substances for occupational safety and health-related topics and for further environmental legislation, such as on water, waste or fertilisers. There are areas of environmental legislation with proposed restrictions for certain substances – for example, the substances in end-of-life vehicles or electric and electronic equipment. ECHA could play a role here as a scientific assessment provider.
Bjorn Hansen, ECHA Executive Director:
The main message for ECHA is to continue the ongoing work to gain efficiencies – across the board in our activities. We have done a lot to improve the speed and resource intensity of our processes. These efforts need to continue, but there is also more to be done on the content of what we do. We now have 10 years of implementation experience. Drawing the lessons from this can help us better focus on what really matters to take decisions or make useful opinions.
Looking at the deadlines, most of the actions are urgent. We need to improve on our implementation of evaluation, restrictions and authorisation. But we must also prepare for the next Multi-annual Financial Framework. Beyond ‘efficiency gains’, this means recalibrating the Agency to the work after the 2018 registration deadline.
ECHA has built up competences on advising industry, managing data, assessing chemicals, managing risks, assessing societal and economic consequences of risks and risk management decisions and operating an agency. These competences are needed when implementing any chemicals legislation. So ECHA could help the EU to be more efficient and consistent by taking on more chemicals legislation and by helping countries build capacities to implement it.
The REACH review
The REACH review highlights the main results of this legislation, such as:
The report proposes many actions to improve the quality of registration dossiers submitted by companies, to simplify the overall authorisation process and to ensure a level playing field between EU and non-EU companies through effective restrictions and enforcement.
The Commission wants to further support SMEs in their compliance and enhance enforcement by national authorities. The Commission also wishes to improve the coherence of REACH with worker protection and waste legislation.
Interviews by Tiiu Bräutigam
Published on: 17 May 2018
Top image: vvs2000 - Fotolia
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