FLORENCE, Italy (ICIS)--The European chemicals industry should “stop complaining” about Reach, the EU’s regulatory framework for the sector, get on with the job of registering their substances in structured, clear dossiers and set an example for the rest of the world, the executive director at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) told an industry event late on Thursday.
Geert Dancet, invited by the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), warned delegates ECHA does not make the regulations but only implements them, and defended the results Reach has brought since 2007 when it was first implemented.
ECHA’s chief, however, warned there is still a lot of work to do, and added that the Helsinki-based agency will collaborate with the industry in ensuring that communication on safe uses in the chemical supply chain is comprehensive, effective and easy to understand.
As a proof of its commitment, ECHA signed publicly, together with Cefic’s director general Marco Mensink, a statement supporting that policy.
However, Dancet did not come to the industry’s event to tell delegates what they wanted to hear. From dossiers filed to ECHA on substances which were “incomplete” or unstructured, the agency chief also said Reach is here to stay and advised companies to stop complaining about a piece of legislation which will set an international example for years to come.
“We’d like to you [companies] to consider dossier registration are an asset [which will be] read by many people around the world [by] disseminating that information publicly on our web,” said Dancet.
“[Therefore, we need you] to provide high quality data, which is compliant [with Reach and] proactively update your dossier, and create new ways of stimulating that. Be proactive in relation to nanoforms and animal testing.”
ECHA's Geert Dancet addresses delegates at the Cefic general assembly, Florence (source: Jonathan Lopez/ICIS)
In May, the Agency issued 56 recommendations on how Reach might work better and on what more needs to be done to improve chemicals safety.
One of ECHA’s new battles to register chemicals used in the EU will come from nanoforms. Dancet highlighted that only 18 dossiers on substances submitted to the agency are flagged as nanoforms, and announced that additional information requirements for those products will be put in place.
Equally, he told delegates that “better documentation and consistency” is needed on alternatives to vertebrate animal testing.
“[There is a] considerable delay on [these aspects], perhaps to your liking, but urgent action is coming,” Dancet told delegates.
Regarding the upcoming 2018 Reach deadline, which will involve the registration of substances produced in quantities between 1 and 100 tonnes, the ECHA chief was understanding of the challenges ahead, as it will involve many small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) which might find the cost of regulation rocketing as a result.
Although many voices within the European chemical industry have said the deadline could put many SMEs out of business, in an interview with ICIS on Thursday Dancet said that a solution could come from focusing in a few products, having to submit less registration dossiers.
His message to delegates was less harsh. With collaboration and communication among all players, some companies could avoid registering their products, simply because they might have already been registered, he said.
“We all know this [2018 deadline] is complicated. We have converted all our guidance, and [provide] support [by dividing] information into six different phases on how to prepare a dossier. Phase 5 has just been launched and in December phase 6, on how to submit your dossier, [will be launched],” said Dancet.
“[Some] industry action required: Spread information on the deadline and make sure the critical substances for the users are all registered, and that they are not withdrawn unexpectedly from the market.”
Another issue ECHA will concentrate on in coming years are substances under the umbrellas of carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) products, persistent bioaccumulative toxics (PBT) and endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDC), the “substances that matter to regulators and governments.”
In June, the European Commission – the EU’s executive body – disappointed chemical companies by adopting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) criteria for EDCs, arguing it lacked “scientific criteria” suitable for the purposes of regulatory decision making, said Cefic at the time.
Dancet said, however, companies should not fear to apply for authorisations of substances, arguing ECHA does approve many of them, trying to put a more positive spin to his speech.
“Authorisations and restrictions [of substances] are the best stimuli for substitution. Don’t be afraid, innovate instead. [Many] applications are receiving authorisation [so] help us [and] stop complaining. We are making authorisations all the time easier, cheaper and more practical and it’s not a drama to have an authorisation,” he said.
“Many people [who] complain have never gone through the process [of application].”
As an example, he said the EU now forbids the use of chromium VI in the manufacturing of leather goods, which was replaced by titanium technologies. The change caused a surge in sales as consumers felt more confident about leather products, he said.
Dancet said: “The experience so far: [we have had] insufficient and unstructured communications up and down the supply chain. Some exposure information poorly represents the actual uses of a substance [and] information down the supply chain [is] perceived as difficult to use by downstream users.
“Aspects to be improved: companies should actively seek convergence of the same classification for the same substance [because] citizens need more reliable information on dangerous substances in the products they buy. Innovate, innovate, innovate – the [Reach] journey continues,” he added.
Dancet also asked companies to maintain the investments made so far for the implementation of Reach, arguing it was in the interest of “everyone in the planet”, while ECHA will continue encouraging the progressive substitution of chemicals of high concern from the manufacturing process.
“Reach is not over in 2018 [and] if [registration are] done by 2020, we’ll have a good reputation – once out there, it [EU dossiers] become a source of any other legislation.”
In Thursday's interview, the ECHA chief also said the departure of the UK from the EU, known as Brexit and caused by a national referendum on membership in June, would have effects on how the country's chemicals apply Reach and other legislations, arguing if UK firms are willing to continue trading with the EU in the same terms, all aspects of EU chemical legislation should apply.
Top picture: ECHA's headquarters in Helsinki, Finland (source: ECHA)