INSIGHT: Reach runs into trouble already

21 October 2008 15:27  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--Some 400,000 substance pre-registrations have already been made under the EU’s Reach chemicals control scheme.

The process is designed to help the entire supply chain get to grips with Reach - the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals sold in the 27 EU member states. But it is running into trouble.

Pre-registration should be able to help users learn more about the origin of certain substances. Particularly, it should be able to show which chemicals may not be available for sale in the EU from December this year - and may not be fully registered under Reach.

It is also meant to flag up the potential membership of the Reach consortiums, or SIEFs, that will help collect the required health and safety data on tens of thousands of chemicals.

Yet this first Reach mechanism appears to be falling apart. Already, two companies have pre-registered the entire EU chemicals inventory - some 300,000 substances. One, the UK-based distributor Azelis, said the intention was to safeguard against the possibility of unwittingly selling unregistered products once Reach comes into full force. In other words, it didn’t want to break the law.

In response, the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) put a restriction on the number of chemicals any one company can pre-register and in the process ruffled a few feathers. 

It thinks that by overdoing bulk pre-registration, market participants cloud the picture for those firms worried that certain molecules will not be pre-registered or even ultimately registered under Reach and so, therefore, will not be able to be sold in the EU.

For the Reach processes to work they have to attract the support - and understanding of manufacturers as well as a broad array of stakeholders. Reach was never going to be easy to implement but the early strains on the system are telling.

More controversy this past week was stirred up when the UK-based distributor and logistics organisation, the Chemical Business Association (CBA), asked for a six-week extension of the pre-registration deadline for Reach.

The Reach IT (information technology) systems were not up and running from day one of pre-registration on 1 June. They did not work fully for six weeks, the CBA maintained. Hence an extension of the pre-registration deadline for a similar period would be most helpful, it said.

Crucially, the CBA suggested, delays faced by companies wanting to pre-register substances under Reach were not simply counterproductive but risked distorting chemicals markets should some molecules not be pre-registered in time and therefore effectively banned from sale.

Those in the know play down the CBA complaint but acknowledge that similar gripes are likely to surface over the coming weeks.

The Reach pre-registration process appears to be working, but the wheels continue to grind exceedingly slowly and give rise to increasing concerns, industry-wide, about the whole process. (It takes between six and eight hours to receive confirmation of a bulk reach pre-registration and some days before full notification is received.)

Reach agencies and industry bodies urged companies to pre-register substances as soon as possible in the six-month period to avoid data logjams later on. But the frustration caused by the pre-registration process has been mounting. Further complaints are expected, alongside additional calls for pre-registration deadline extensions.

The problem is that an extension will not be easily achieved. The European Commission can help push an extension through but that could take time.

The legally binding Reach text can only be modified with the agreement of the Commission, the European Parliament and government representatives of the 27 EU member states- the EU’s Council of Ministers. It is not clear currently just how long such a process might take.

And there could still be a rush in the last six weeks of pre-registration. There are numerous small players in the European chemicals supply chains who will find the entire Reach process confusing and difficult, let alone costly to implement. Outside the EU, there appears to be little understanding of how the Reach pre-registration process works.

Indeed, making Reach work for them is already proving to be a great struggle for many companies. And making the more complex full registrations, which are scheduled to begin at the end 2010, will be even more difficult.

Registering substances under the complex scheme involves a massive amount of work, one major chemical company admitted last month. The burden on smaller companies will be disproportionately intense.

The entire Reach process needs industry-wide support if it is to be successful. It also needs careful monitoring. These are early days but vitally important ones, for they will colour companies’ attitudes to Reach workability.

Visit ICIS Connect to discuss Reach issues

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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