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Authorisation is working, conference decides

Last week the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) held a conference on “Lessons learnt on Applications for Authorisation“. I couldn’t attend myself, but I did watch much of it on line – I’ve also spoken to people who were there. It ended up being a very positive event, which is good news as Authorisation is an important tool in creating a more sustainable society.

Authorisation is a new process, brought in as part of Europe’s REACH chemical regulation, in which certain chemicals with properties of very high concern are identified, then a deadline is set by which companies must apply to have their use of the chemical authorised, otherwise it will be banned. The idea of this process is for it to be more sophisticated than just a straightforward ban, encouraging companies to look at the availability of safer alternatives.

As we’ve pointed out in the DEHP in PVC case, we are not totally happy with all the decisions being taken in authorisation, however we think that it is a very important tool in promoting innovation towards safer chemicals. Chemicals with properties of very high concern are put on a list (Annex XIV), and a date is set when they will be banned unless authorised – this gives industry a clear idea of which chemicals are problematic, and time to find safer alternatives.

As reported by Chemical Watch, the conference heard that for around 50% of substances put on this list, there is no application for authorisation – i.e. the chemical is successfully removed from the market. Also, around half of the applications that have been received are just for short ‘bridging applications’, to give a bit of extra time for substitution to occur.

A number of industry speakers confirmed that there had already been improvements in the process of getting authorisation, and also that the process of obtaining authorisations was making companies aware of opportunities to reduce risks or substitute substances of very high concern. Tatiana Santos of the European Environment Bureau also spelled out the concerns of environmental groups – see presentation.

The concluding slides for the conference – which aren’t yet up on the ECHA web page (Update: now they are, see below), so I’ve put them up here temporarily (I captured them from the Webex conference broadcast) – state that application for Authorisation is working, the process is predictable & that it is encouraging substitution. However, they also suggest that improvement is needed (and already underway) to reduce costs and improve guidance. They also question whether the ultimate aim of replacing substances of very high concern with safer alternatives is still sufficiently addressed (which is a major concern of CHEM Trust).

In my view the most negative presentation in the event was given by Klaus Berend, who is the Head of the REACH Unit at DG Growth (formerly DG Enterprise). The event mostly focussed on the fact that the authorisation process is working and becoming more efficient (as reflected in the Chemical Watch coverage). In contrast Berend focussed on the idea that there is increasing resistance to authorisation from ‘stakeholders’ (see report from ENDS Europe), without being clear that this resistance is largely coming from certain industry sectors who want business as usual.

Authorisation should be about promoting innovation, not protecting old fashioned dirty industry, with their noisy lobbyists. Hopefully DG Growth agrees with this.

Update 26th February

All the presentations for this conference are now up on the ECHA web page for the conference.