LONDON (ICIS)--The final deadline for the EU’s Reach chemicals registration has passed with the total number of dossier submissions for different materials coming in below original forecasts, according to the director of registration at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on Friday.
21,550 substances were registered over the three milestones of the Reach programme, below the 30,000 projected by ECHA before the start of the project, despite the 88,300 total dossier registrations over the 11-year period coming in close to the predicted 90,000.
13,000 companies submitted registrations over the lifespan of the Reach registration phase, creating the largest database of chemical properties in the world, according to ECHA registration director Christel Musset.
“With this last registration deadline we can say that we’ve reached an important milestone for safe use of chemicals in Europe,” Musset said.
“Before Reach was introduced there was a clear lack of knowledge… With Reach, chemical companies have the [data] to ensure that the chemicals they manufacture can be handled safely at the workplace,” she added.
Concluding on 31 May, the final deadline covered chemicals used in quantities of over a tonne, prompting concerns that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) coming under the ECHA spotlight for the first time would have difficulty coping with the financial and organisational costs of the process.
The cost to small businesses is still being counted, but 18% of the submissions for the final round came from SMEs, Musset said, undershooting earlier expectations.
The lower than anticipated number of chemicals registered may be due to the shifting landscape of European production since the numbers were determined 15 years ago, Musset said, along with portfolio rationalisations based on what was profitable to register and what should be discontinued.
“We don’t have the last figures on the registration, we have to remember that the forecasts were done something like 15 years ago and it was representing the market as it was at the time,” Musset said.
“Companies have rationalised portfolios, and made business decisions not to register in certain cases,” she added.
It also remains to be seen how substantial the impact of unregistered products will be on supply chains.
“This may only become clear later on when a supply chain realises that a certain chemical has not been registered,” she said, noting that the number of substances registered is similar to those in the US market.
ECHA has been encouraging downstream users to reach out to their suppliers and verify registration plans, and has been alerting buyers of when a registration dossier is submitted for a necessary material, according to Mercedes Vinas, ECHA’s head of unit for dossier registrations.
"The numbers will only become clearer later this year,” she told ICIS.
“This applies also to sectors such as aerospace which are very down in the supply chain of chemicals, and it will only be clear for them if their substances are registered later this year. So we are in dialogue with then, we try to publish information as soon as there is a process initiated for registration,” she added.
ECHA will now need to confirm the dossiers and conclude completeness checked by 31 August, when the information will be published on its website. A large-scale enforcement project to work with EU member states on compliance with the new rules will begin next year, according to ECHA executive director Bjorn Hansen.
“We now have one system, it includes all chemicals, it has all the data that has been collected… this data has been used by industry to ensure safety,” he said.
The UK was the second-most significant contributor of registration dossiers over the lifespan of the project after Germany, according to ECHA, followed by France, Italy and the Netherlands.
The relationship of UK chemicals firms to ECHA following Brexit remains to be determined, but ECHA is equipped to enact any changes that are agreed, according to Hansen.
“Anything is possible but that depends on our political masters,” he said.
“Whatever is agreed, we at ECHA will be able to implement it, whatever that entails. Depending on the technicalities we might need more time, but I principally don’t see any technological, scientific or administrative problems,” he added.
Picture source: ImageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock
Focus article by Tom Brown