A future UK REACH regime will be a “hollow shell” and will not be able to replicate the EU’s protections post-Brexit, said CHEM Trust in its evidence to a hearing in the UK Parliament on 12th March. Dr Michael Warhurst, CHEM Trust’s Executive Director, gave evidence to the public bill committee that has been set up to scrutinise the Environment Bill – alongside Nishma Patel, Policy Director at the Chemical Industries Association and Bud Hudspith, Health & Safety at UNITE the union.
The Environment Bill establishes a new domestic framework for environmental governance post-Brexit and makes provisions to amend the UK’s post-Brexit chemical regulations.
The evidence session
The witnesses all raised the weaknesses of a future UK REACH regime. Such a regime will take effect when the current transition period ends (the end of 2020, unless the transition is extended), if the UK does not remain within REACH (EU chemical regulations) as part of its future relationship with the EU.
Bud Hudspith highlighted his concerns about the lack of resources available to, and the technical ability of, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to replicate the functions of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
Michael Warhurst said that the UK’s database of chemicals safety and use information will essentially be empty on day one of the new system. Registered chemicals will then be listed, with companies required to provide safety data over the following two years. The loss of access to the EU’s chemical safety database and the lack of information in the UK’s database would render the UK system “hollow”, without the capacity to do new controls on chemical use or anything more than the basics.
He gave the example of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on which the EU is developing a general restriction for non-essential uses. He pointed out that this restriction would be complex and challenging for ECHA with all their experts and data, and questioned whether the UK would be able to copy such a process and defend itself against legal challenges from chemical producers, without the full EU REACH data.
Bud Hudspith said it may take more than five years for the HSE to catch up with ECHA and Nishma Patel concurred that it would put us on a path behind REACH.
Michael Warhurst argued that it would be “more straightforward to be focussed on following what the EU does .. rather than trying to create another system”. Bud Hudpsith said that alignment is most important and Nishma Patel said the “need to stay close to the European chemicals regulations far outweighs the opportunities”.
CHEM Trust also submitted written evidence to the Environment Bill Committee.
Provisions in the Bill on chemicals
Schedule 19 of the Environment Bill provides the secretary of state with wide-ranging powers to amend REACH (as transposed into UK law) and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008, although there are a number of areas that are ‘protected’ from easy amendment.
Michael Warhurst highlighted a lack of rationale as to why some articles are protected and others are not. He questioned why Articles 33 and 34 of REACH are not protected, which require companies to provide information about “Substances of Very High Concern” (SVHC) to industrial users of that product and in response to requests from consumers.
Amendments to the Bill
A number of amendments have been tabled by MPs; the full list (as at 20 March) is available here. CHEM Trust particularly supports the following amendments:
- Amendment 176 – which protects Articles 32-34 on information in the supply chain and the right to know for consumers about the most hazardous chemicals in products, that may not be amended under these powers.
- Matthew Offord MP’s New Clause 11 (NC11) – that makes it an objective of UK-EU trade negotiations for the UK to remain within REACH and to seek associate membership of ECHA.
- Amendment 175 which aims to improve the consultation process for amending REACH.
Chloe Alexander, Trade Campaigner at CHEM Trust said:
“The Environment Bill provides an opportunity for parliament to address some of the considerable weaknesses of the proposed UK regime.
“Without a commitment to follow EU controls and continued participation in ECHA, UK REACH risks becoming a frozen regulator – unable to create new restrictions and authorisations without access to the full chemical safety information. Failure to match action in Europe on chemical restrictions is likely to encourage unscrupulous manufacturers to dump products on the UK market that fail to meet EU regulations”.
- This evidence session has been covered by Chemical Watch
- Due to the coronavirus situation, proceedings on the Environment Bill have been postponed until 28th April at the earliest.