Safe chemicals

Impending EU REACH legislation that will force manufacturers to prove that chemicals are safe could have dire consequences for the chemicals industry.

On October 29th 2003, the EU adopted a proposal for a new regulatory framework for chemicals.

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals) will require anyone who manufactures or imports more than one tonne of a chemical substance a year, to enter it on a central database.

While environmental groups have welcomed this, those within the industry are concerned that the finer details of the legislation, namely the process of registration, risk assessment and authorisation will be costly.

Tony Newbould, deputy chief executive of the British Coatings Federation, believes the cost will inevitably see certain chemicals currently in use in the UK and Europe discontinued as manufacturers look to keep profit levels up.

Newbould stressed that those chemicals that continue to be manufactured may not even be the most environmentally friendly, simply the most economically viable. ‘The way REACH is currently set up is that a lot of manufacturers and importers will be making decisions about whether to support a chemical purely on economics and not on its impact on them or the environment – which is what the legislation is primarily seeking to achieve.’

According to the EU, REACH will set high standards for protection of health and the environment while safeguarding the competitiveness of enterprises and improving the potential for product innovation. However, the European Chemical Industry Council (CECIF) estimates between 20-30 per cent of chemicals on the market are at risk and stated that further simplification of processes and procedures is needed to deliver health and environmental benefits and to maintain competitiveness of the European chemical industry.

The BCF believes these issues are a result of the macro approach employed by the EU, which brings every aspect of the chemical industry under the same remit. What the BCF would like to see is a smarter approach with less emphasis on the requirement to register information on every single chemical, but target products of particular concerns, such as Category 1 and 2 carcinogens and mutigens.

Speaking at a recent DEFRA conference, Judith Hackett, director general of the Chemical Industries Association similarly advocated a risk-based approach to prioritisation, claiming it is essential if the health benefits of the legislation are to be realised.

According to Hackett, studies into the business impact of REACH have shown a direct cost of 1.9 and 3.2bn Euros combined with a loss of competitiveness in the EU and a loss of jobs, tax revenue and investment in the UK.

This is in contradiction to Margaret Wolstrum, EU environment commissioner, who claims the new legislation is a ‘win-win’ situation for industry, workers and citizens and our ecosystem’.

According to Newbould, the risk-assessment is going to involve everybody in the supply chain that is handling the chemical, as a decision regarding protection and control measures has to be made.

This will lead to what Newbould refers to as the ‘domino effect’, citing that any material which incorporates chemical compounds within its make-up could be open to registration, authorisation and risk assessment. This process, which could cost £100,000, encapsulates the primary concern of the BCF.

Newbould claimed there is no ‘optimism’ at all within the industrial coatings industry, simply frustration down the supply chain. As the regulation is in draft form, it is hard for users and manufacturers to know at this stage which chemicals are to be dropped or continued and hard to make decisions about the future.

The ramifications of REACH range further than Europe. The US will see all chemicals manufactured subject to the regulations once they cross EU borders.

Newbould believes that prior to REACH coming into force in 2006 those within the industry should work towards a greater understanding of its impact and the politicians responsible for the legislation should be made aware of its implications and what it will mean to UK and EU business.