European Chemicals Authorization Plan Changed to Suit Industry

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 24, 2003 (ENS) - Europe's new plan for the registration and authorizatioin of thousands of chemicals has been revised in response to criticism from the chemical industry and from the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Revised proposals for a major overhaul of EU chemicals policy, known as REACH for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, have emerged from the European Commission's enterprise and environment directorates.

The new draft of REACH lightens the burden on industry as the departments attempt to halt rising industry and government opposition to plans for a new substance regime.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom and her industry counterpart Erkki Liikanen submitted the new plans for consultation with other commissioners last week. They want the Commission to agree on the text of a formal legislative proposal for consideration by EU governments and Members of the European Parliament before the end of October.

Under the revised draft, REACH would no longer apply to polymers - a wide variety of plastics, such as polyethylene, used in packaging, bottles, toys, wood preservation, electric cable, pipes and tubing, and polyacrylamide, the tough, clear plastic that compact discs are made from.

chemical plant

The acetyls chemical complex at BP's Saltend Works, Hull, England (Photo courtesy FreeFoto )
For many firms the obligation to produce an initial chemical safety assessment of substances would disappear, and there will be much more restricted obligations on companies to prepare chemical safety reports and pass them down the supply chain.

In a bid to reduce friction with the EU's main trading partners, rules for applying REACH to imported articles have been softened.

The scope of the authorization procedure itself is unchanged. It will apply to chemcal substances of very high concern, and those of "equivalent concern" such as endocrine disrupters.

The new joint text is the two commissioners' best attempt to absorb the hail of criticism directed at their initial legislative proposals for REACH. The attack culminated with a strongly worded letter from Europe's three most senior leaders penned at their summit last weekend in Berlin.

Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, France's Jacques Chirac, and the UK's Tony Blair said the REACH plans are "still a long way from being the fast, simple and cost-efficient procedure" that the Commission had promised.

In a joint letter to Commission President Romano Prodi, the three leaders called the proposed chemicals program "too bureaucratic and unnecessarily complicated." REACH "does not prioritize sufficiently between the handling of substances" and "will as a result not be workable in practice." they wrote.

The European Commission's environment and enterprise departments now propose to exclude polymers from REACH's key requirement for chemicals of all kinds to be registered with the authorities. This will remove an estimated 30,000 substances from the system.

Registration may be required for "certain" polymers at an unspecified date - following a review of the risks they pose, and taking account of the implications for competitiveness, innovation and protection of health and the environment, officials said.

The Commission has rejected industry pleas for all chemical intermediates to be excluded from registration. However, it has scrapped a previous ruling that intermediates transported from their production site to more than two sites should be subject to full, rather than partial, registration requirements.


These pesticide containers hold poisons that, when used improperly or without sufficient knowledge of their effects, endanger humans, animals and the environment. Used in Asia, many of these pesticides were made in Europe. (Photo courtesy Pesticide Action Network)
The general obligation to register all substances produced in quantities over one metric ton per year is untouched. But there will be a review of data requirements for substances in the one to 10 ton per year category after six years - before they are due to be registered.

Another major complaint by the chemical industry has been about the burden facing manufacturers and all downstream users in preparing chemical safety reports for all substances and passing them along the supply chain.

This requirement has now been greatly lightened. Reports will not be required for substances produced in quantities of less than 10 tons per year, nor from downstream users except where their use of a substance is not known to the upstream supplier.

There will also be no need to prepare reports for a substance where it is present in small quantities in a formulation.

And, rather than chemical safety reports being used as the main means of communicating along the supply chain, the emphasis will now be on using safety data sheets for this purpose.

The balance of registration responsibilities between chemical producers and downstream users has been shifted back to the producers.

Chemical firms will have to register data for all substances in all known uses, unless a downstream user prefers not to disclose the way the substance is used, in which case the user will bear the responsibilty of registering the substance for that use.

Previously vague provisions requiring manufacturers and importers of finished articles to register the chemical substances in them have been clarified and pared down. They must now register chemicals in articles only if these substances are classified as dangerous, are intended to be released from the product and are present in the "article type" in quantities over one ton per year.

A much lighter obligation to notify will apply where a release is incidental to the use of a substance.

A general "duty of care" provision has been more clearly defined in response to industry worries that firms would be subject to open ended liability claims. It will now be enough for companies to meet their obligations under REACH and related legislation.

Industry concerns over disclosure of proprietary data to competitors have been addressed through stricter protection of confidential business information.

In response to environmentalists' complaints that REACH would fail to drive the substitution of chemicals with safer alternatives, the substitution principle is more prominently referenced in the provisions for authorizing the use of substances. Firms will be encouraged to present "substitution plans" which may influence decisions on authorization.


{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email:}