On 1 June, it will be 10 years since one of the most groundbreaking pieces of legislation entered into force. Over 40 pieces of legislation across Europe were replaced by this single law, which also brought the European Chemicals Agency to the beautiful city of Helsinki. What a decade it has been! For those of us working in ECHA and many of you working in your organisations, they’ve been a roller-coaster ride – some ups and downs, plenty of challenges, some white knuckle moments and a great deal of satisfaction. I must say that for me too, it has been a lot of fun and I have met some amazing and talented people along the way. But putting the personal to one side, what’s it all been about?
Well the aspirations could not have been higher – to significantly improve human health and the environment, encourage innovation and keep the EU’s chemical industry competitive. The bar was set very high, but all the evidence points to us having made a positive start. This is incredibly impressive given that the responsibilities placed on industry, the Member States and ECHA were all new. We learned together by doing and actually we have come a very long way together.
Today, the goals are the backbone of our everyday work. We are making progress in reducing the risks of hazardous chemicals in Europe, and there is increasing evidence that legislation and innovation can go hand-in-hand. Developing safer chemicals to replace harmful ones is good for all of us – it also gives European companies a competitive advantage in the global market.
But to manage the risks of chemicals in Europe, we need reliable information on their hazards as well as the ways in which they are used. We get that information from companies who register the chemicals they make or import.
There have been two deadlines so far for companies to register the most hazardous substances and those manufactured or imported in high volumes. Many have started to submit registrations for the third deadline, too. Up to this point, you can find data from around 48 000 registrations, with information on approximately 10 500 substances on ECHA’s website. That information was not available to you and me before REACH.
The third and final registration deadline in 2018 is an extremely important one. This is the deadline where the least hazardous substances and those produced or imported in the smallest volumes will be registered. We expect information to come in on up to 25 000 chemicals in around 50 000 new registration dossiers. So, a lot of companies, both big and small, are working on their registration dossiers right now.
This is all good stuff! But, we need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the quality of the data submitted by companies on the hazards of their chemicals is often poor. That is a fundamental weakness of the REACH system. If the data is poor, manufacturers cannot communicate with their customers effectively enough about how to use the chemicals safely, and authorities cannot take decisions about measures to control the use of the most dangerous ones. This is one significant area where things need to improve.
With 10 years on the clock, it is also time for the European Commission to check what’s working and what’s not and that review is being carried out as we speak. We are looking forward to seeing the results. If there are ways in which we can do our work better and ensure that we succeed in protecting human health and the environment from the toxic effects of chemicals – we are ready to do it. The report should be published by the end of this year and that will give us a clue on what the next decade will look like.
In the meantime, thanks for sharing this journey with us – I am looking forward to the next leg with a lot of optimism!
Head of Communications
European Chemicals Agency