Adopted in 2006, the REACH regulation requires chemical manufacturers to register the 100,000 or so substances currently on the market and submit them for safety screening and subsequent authorisation. Those that are considered to pose an unacceptable threat to human health or the environment may be phased out and eventually replaced.
Since then, only a small number of chemicals have actually been reviewed, starting with a list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC), which are suspected of causing cancer or disturbing the human reproductive system.
This has led campaigners to call for an acceleration of the screening process. ChemSec, an environmental lobby group, has recently accused the EU of delaying action on “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals such as phthalates, calling on regulators to speed up work. ChemSec wants 378 substances included in the list of “substances of very high concern”.
The European Commission has sought to play down expectations, indicating that the REACH review will be based on a report drawing on lessons learned from the legislation’s implementation.
Companies that want to sell chemicals must register them with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, including details on toxicity, which the agency publishes on its website.
One contentious issue is whether ECHA should make all the toxicity data available to the public or whether parts of it should remain confidential to protect company’s patents. Some of this data may actually be withheld and kept confidential when companies can demonstrate that disclosure would hurt their bottom-line.
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