02 June 2008 15:29 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
LONDON (ICIS news)--Even as the EU’s Reach chemicals control scheme moves into full gear the effectiveness of the new regulation is being called into question.
Particularly, the clash between Reach and existing EU laws, such as those designed to control the use of hazardous materials in electrical and electronic equipment, has caught the headlines.
The EU’s RoHS Directive seeks to control the use of what are considered to be hazardous materials in electrical and electronic goods and equipment largely as scientific evidence becomes available suggesting that there may be problems.
Not surprisingly, it is at this stage that industry becomes most concerned and questions whether the "precautionary principle", which underpins RoHS and Reach, can indeed be applied effectively.
The use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, and the flame retardants polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in electronic equipment is already banned under RoHS.
But question marks have been raised by EU advisers over a further 46 substances including plasticiaers and other flame retardants, formaldehyde, bisphenol-A and widely used nickel and gallium arsenide.
This may be a preliminary list from consultants at the Oko Institut but it is feared that it sends the wrong message to the marketplace.
“The message has nonetheless been delivered that scientific assessments are at risk of being ignored,” adviser to the brominated flame retardant industry and former US ambassador to the EU, Stuart Eizenstat, is quoted as saying in an article published in the Economist Group’s European Voice newspaper.
Eizenstat warned at the end of last month of the “chilling signal” for EU-US trade if activists were allowed to undermine European chemical legislation.
“If this proposal is allowed to stand, these chemicals could be banned, contrary to scientific assessments and even before Reach has had an opportunity to evaluate the risks and benefits,” he said.
So, how committed was the EU to sound regulatory processes, based on scientific assessment, transparency and procedural rights? Eizenstat asked.
Reach, or the registration, evaluations and authorisation of chemicals scheme, appears to be of nightmarish proportion but in the first instance, at least, provides a framework for risk evaluation of tens of thousands of chemicals.
It has also swept away a host of existing chemicals legislation that had become outdated. But in sweeping across the board, Reach has to mesh with existing laws.
The clash with RoHS highlights the ubiquity of chemicals in manufacturing and the importance of sometimes little heard of intermediates in important supply chains. The electronics industry is just one sector but Reach rules will apply across so many.
Electronics manufacturers faced major re-design headaches when use of the six substances was restricted under RoHS. The extended list of materials of concern, certainly, rings further alarm bells.
Consultants to the electronics sector have warned of the impact of Reach which could be RoHS multiplied ten fold.
A list of chemicals of concern under Reach could include a few thousand substances. It will be published by the EU’s Helsinki-based chemicals agency in October.
If the publication of the list and the use of these chemicals are not managed effectively the business impact could be significant.
The Reach regulation has been applied to better control the use of chemicals in manufacturing and help protect human health and the environment. But as the Reach process begins - pre-registration runs from 1 June to 30 November this year - there are many unknowns.
Of greatest concern to chemicals suppliers, currently, is whether the EU’s Reach IT systems are up to the job.
Some have expected a rush of pre-registrations at the start of the limited period, and trade associations and advisory services have suggested that it is best to wait a week to see how the technology beds in.
Of greatest importance, however, perhaps is what Cefic director general, Alain Perroy, on Monday called “the unequivocal and uniform interpretation of the guidelines by [EU] member states, responsible for the enforcement of Reach”.
The Reach process will have an impact on many areas of manufacturing outside chemicals and will also highlight anomalies in the ways in which chemicals control has hitherto been conducted at the EU and the national, member states level.
As the scheme goes live, a great chemicals debate begins. It will affect the entire supply chain.
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