INSIGHT: Metrics set out to show Reach wins but not at industry expense

30 June 2009 18:23  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS news)--Risk is a function of hazard and exposure, so a shift in either variable affects product safety.

The just-launched Reach baseline study from the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, poses the right questions then, when it asks: “Will there be a decrease in risk? Will our very limited knowledge of the properties of substances and their safe uses increase due to Reach?”

The chemical industry and its customers deal in hazardous substances, some much more hazardous than others, but at what levels of exposure do they constitute a significant risk? And is the industry fully prepared, along with its customers, to help identify those risks and develop less toxic chemicals?

Some pretty wild claims were made for Reach when the chemicals registration, evaluation and authorisation legislation was first proposed. Cost savings of €18bn-€54bn ($25bn-$76bn) over a 30-year period were seen as possible. But that was if Reach were to uncover a substance like asbestos and force its withdrawal.

The point about Reach, and chemicals control legislation worldwide, is preservation of human health and the environment. That better preservation may come at a cost is always part of the argument.

It is clear from the outset in the Eurostat Reach baseline project, however, that the impact of the Reach regulation on Europe’s chemicals industry and its customers is not part of the remit.

The Reach baseline study will look at a set of indicators and measure the progress towards the major objectives of Reach, Eurostat says. That is “to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment as well as enhancing innovation of safer chemicals”.

The EU agency will not address the economic and legal aspects of Reach: the impact of European industrial competitiveness and possible fragmentation of the internal market.

The EU, however, wants to see Reach work and will provide data against a set of risk and quality indicators comparing the situation now with that five years hence.

The risk and quality indicators track two major goals of the regulation: a reduction in the nominal risks of chemicals for humans and the environment, and improvements in the quality of publicly available data.

Other indicators will monitor various administrative aspects of Reach, such as the number of substance dossiers being evaluated under Reach, and, for example, whether alternatives to animal testing are being adopted.

The focus will be on 237 representative substances in the high, medium and low-production volume categories. The data quality assessments are expected to lead to a “more complete” testing of toxicological properties, Eurostat says.

Changes over the years in aggregated baseline risk and quality scores for workers, consumers and the environment may become a headline indicator for political communication, Eurostat says.

The supplementary indicators will include one on the registration of new chemicals that the EU hopes will monitor the process of product substitution. It has often been claimed that Reach will drive innovation, a point not wildly embraced by chemicals producers.

"If industry chooses to substitute existing chemicals by newly developed substances, then the registration rate of new chemicals will accelerate,” Eurostat says. Over the past 10 years, a meagre 300 new chemicals were registered in the EU each year.

The Eurostat base data show that the total production of chemicals in 15 EU member states grew by 28% between 1995 and 2007. In 2007, the share of “toxic” chemicals in total production was 55% in the EU15 and in the EU25 nations.

The proportion of chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or harmful to reproduction had remained stable at 33m tonnes (EU15) and 36m tonnes (EU25).

The EU wants to see if a trend to a relative decoupling of toxic chemicals production from the growth of total output and gross domestic product (GDP) can be observed.

That may not be in the nature of chemistry, but is a driving force behind Reach.

($1 = €0.71)

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By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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