Chemical reaction

Strict EU regulations on chemicals and substances means all companies will need to be aware of exactly what they are using, says Phil Woolas

The registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) programme began its pre-registration period on 1 June, meaning companies will need to research the substances they use, how they use them and who they rely on if they want to keep using them in the future.

Under REACH, chemicals manufactured or imported into the EU in quantities of more than one tonne must be registered with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. This process began with the pre-registration period, which runs until 1 December this year.

But REACH will not only affect big businesses dealing with large quantities of chemical products. If companies use chemicals to keep their machinery operating and their premises clean, import products such as cars or batteries or receive substances containing chemicals through a supplier and use them in an unusual way, they may need to take some action under the new rules.

It makes good business sense to get on board with REACH as soon as possible. Find out about the new rules and how they might affect your business. There are resources to help, such as the REACH Competent Authority website and helpdesk.*

Who will be affected by the rules?

1) Companies that make their own chemicals or supply them to others if they manufacture one tonne or more of any chemical a year.

2) Businesses importing one tonne or more of chemicals into Europe a year — including those in mixtures such as paints and cleaning agents and products such as cars and batteries.

3) Those using substances to keep their machinery operating and premises clean; formulators of paints, glues, detergents, plastics or rubbers; users of oils, lubricants and antifoams; car repair shops and cleaners and manufacturers of electronic components, computers and toys.

Companies that manufacture or import more than a tonne of chemicals or more a year, will need to be aware of the make-up of these products in order to pre-register. This includes substances used and all the ingredients of any mixtures. If a company produces finished products such as cars, batteries and phones, it will need to find out if there are substances in these products that exceed one tonne a year.

If a business purchases substances from a supplier, it will need to look at what they are and how it uses them. If a company uses a chemical in an unusual way, it might need to let its supplier know, as it will need the information for registration.

Generally, if a business is using chemicals or mixtures of chemicals such as paint, lubricants or cleaning agents in the way that is expected, REACH will probably not mean significant changes. However, if it uses unusual chemicals, the company should contact its supplier to check how it plans to supply the chemical in the future.

Pre-registration involves providing the ECHA with some basic information on the substances a businesses is manufacturing or importing, the quantities involved and the details of that firm’s REACH contact.

To pre-register, a company will need to meet certain criteria. Generally, chemicals needs to be on the ‘existing substances’ list of the European inventory of existing chemical substances (EINECS), which means it must also have been placed on the European market before 1981. Specific guidance on this can be found on the REACH website.

If a company takes part in the pre-registration process, it will be able to take a longer time to fully register. The timing of these deadlines depends on the hazard classification and tonnage of the substance being registered. If a company does not pre-register, it cannot take advantage of these staggered deadlines and will need to fully register its substance immediately after 1 December, ceasing its manufacture or import while this takes place.

Once pre-registration has taken place, the ECHA will identify those that have pre-registered the same substance and put them in contact with one other. The potential registrants can then get together and form a ‘Substance Information Exchange Forum’ (SIEF) where they can negotiate sharing their available data and the costs of generating any new information for a joint substance registration dossier. Registration costs are also reduced through this collaboration.

* Helpline 0845 4089575.

Phil Woolas is minister for the environment, responsible for climate change, energy and sustainable development