21 January 2010 20:14 [Source: ICB]
The first full registration deadline under the EU's Reach chemical law is looming. How will Europe's soaps and detergents sector fare?
SINCE THE EU's Reach chemical control law became effective in June 2007, companies across the board have been busy gearing up first to preregister substances in 2008, and now to complete the full registration phase for higher hazard and volume substances by December 1, 2010.
This means that substances that are produced or imported into the EU in quantities greater than 1,000 tonnes/year must be registered before the end of this year, as must smaller amounts of hazardous substances. Later deadlines of December 2013 and December 2018 apply to substances produced (or imported) in 100-999 tonne quantities and 1-99 tonne quantities, respectively.
Sylvie Lemoine, director of technical and regulatory affairs at the Brussels, Belgium-based International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance products (AISE), explains how the sector is preparing to meet the challenge, noting that communication along the supply chain is essential for success. "We are working with suppliers on ensuring timely registration of the key substances in our members' products," she says. According to Lemoine, this means "organizing meetings with supplier organizations and consortia on an ad-hoc basis" and "developing data and tools to help them cover our uses in their dossiers and demonstrate safe use."
In addition to working with suppliers, Lemoine explains that AISE also works closely with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), which represents the EU chemical industry, and other downstream users to find solutions to potential problems concerning the 2010 registration deadline.
SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE
Both Cefic and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) - the body in charge of managing Reach, have raised particular concerns about Substance Information Exchange Forums (SIEFs), invented to enable firms that have preregistered a substance to share data and prepare a joint registration dossier for that substance.
ECHA is worried that many SIEFs have not been formed or are not functioning effectively - many have large numbers of members and there are concerns that communication is ineffective. The creation of SIEFs has also been complicated by the significant number of companies that preregistered substances - ECHA reports that 140,000 substances were preregistered in 2008, of which 55,000 need to be registered by December.
Lemoine agrees that companies need to do more in this area, acknowledging that AISE is "raising the awareness of our members on the urgency to become active in SIEFs in order to meet the 2010 deadlines." She adds that the organization will also in the coming months "organize a second workshop with our key supplying sectors to discuss some specifics of the registration process, in particular how to develop exposure scenarios for our sector." AISE "also wants to provide them with a tool we have recently developed for calculating consumer exposure and this will be posted on our website later in January," she adds.
Likewise, she says that AISE, in conjunction with Cefic, is backing calls from other industries "to better quantify the 'real' number of registrations to be submitted in 2010, as opposed to the list of preregistrations." She insists that clarification on this issue "would contribute to avoiding unnecessary panic at downstream user level about substances that may not be available on the market after December 1, 2010." Lemoine says that "if we can help do that, we will, but our sector represents only a small proportion of 2010 registrations."
Whether there will be product substitution as others are withdrawn from the market remains to be seen. Lemoine insists that "substitution is an individual company decision that is based on interactions with individual suppliers and the level of confidence they have in products being registered." She says that "we do not discuss substitution at association level," adding that "it has an anti-competitive element, anyway." But she insists that neither consumers, nor regulators, nor manufacturers should jump to conclusions about the safety of a product or substance. "The selection or use of substances in detergent and maintenance products is based on risk, and there is no reason to encourage substitution simply because a substance is not subject to Reach registration," she says. "It is not because it is not covered by
"It is not because it is not covered by Reach that it is unsafe."
Sylvie Lemoine, director of technical and regulatory affairs,AISE
There is widespread concern that companies in all sectors will fail to meet the December deadline, but Lemoine says she is "still optimistic that the key substances used in our industry will be registered on time" and is cautious about rumors of a potential panic wave, suggesting this "may be more speculation than reality." Nonetheless, she admits that certain problems remain of significant concern and notes in particular the issue of supply chain communication.
She says there is "no tool available" to allow communication between different actors in the supply chain "in a standardized manner." For example, "the description of uses should be based on the Use Descriptor System," says Lemoine, but notes that "different people may select different codes from the system for a particular use, leading to potential misalignment and inconsistent registrations."
She says trade associations can help by providing lists of use descriptors, as AISE has done, but insists that "such lists need to be communicated upstream, while downstream users expect feedback from manufacturers and importers on their intent to cover the uses." She says "many manufacturers and importers have not reached the stage of listing the uses or do not have the time to reply anymore."
Another area of concern, according to Lemoine, is "ensuring that the conditions of use and risk management measures are understandable and workable for downstream users." She says: "It is likely that the format and content of exposure scenarios will differ between different suppliers at the beginning and that downstream users will have to find their way through the maze."
Despite these and other challenges posed by the legislation, Lemoine says the soaps and detergents industry "continues to believe that Reach offers the long-term opportunity to reconcile the general public with chemicals by increasing the confidence of consumers in the products they buy and use." And concludes that although "some elements of Reach are extremely difficult to implement and it requires tremendous effort from all parties, we are confident."
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