At the start of 2021 the UK left the EU’s regulatory processes, and a new ‘GB REACH’ system started to operate to regulate use of chemicals. Following a push from a number of UK industry associates to deregulate this new system, a coalition of health and environmental NGOs, including CHEM Trust, have written to the UK Government calling for it to resist these unwise and unsafe proposals, which would vastly reduce the amount of chemical safety data that was accessible to UK regulators.
Our letter, which was covered in the Financial Times today, points out that
“Adopting measures such as those proposed by the industry would undermine the ‘no data, no market’ principle that ministers have said will remain at the core of UK REACH. It would leave the new UK regulator with insufficient data to regulate chemical use safely, including as new concerns emerge. And it would create a system similar to the discredited and ineffective EU ‘Existing Chemicals’ process that preceded REACH. The delays and regulatory inaction under this system were a driving force behind the creation of EU REACH, in which the UK played a major role.”
Good regulation is what is needed
The regulation of chemicals is being presented by industry as a compliance issue, but it’s an issue that matters to all of us. Its purpose is to establish which chemicals pose serious risks to our health and the environment and to put in place measures to ensure that they are used safely, or not at all. It is a dynamic process that depends on access to detailed safety information. EU REACH is the global gold standard for chemical regulation, with more data on properties and use of chemicals than any other system. Much of this data is commercially confidential or owned by individual companies. The UK tried and failed to negotiate access to this data in the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, agreed at the end of 2020.
As we highlight in our letter, good regulation should also ensure that the public purse does not bear the brunt of the consequences of poor chemicals’ management, such as in the form of increased costs to health services and environmental protection.
In our letter we ask the UK Government not to renege on its commitment to maintain chemical protection standards post-Brexit. The Government has repeatedly promised to maintain protections, even promising a ‘better system’ with the flexibility to set higher standards.
We know that voters don’t want to see a reduction in standards. Polling by Unchecked of younger conservative leave voters (aged 22-48) found that 74% want to increase or keep EU standards and rules on chemical use.
In CHEM Trust’s view, the best option for protecting consumers and our environment is for the UK to align with the EU’s relatively high protections on hazardous chemicals as they continue to improve. EU regulators have access to far more safety and use data than the UK equivalents, they also have much more capacity to scientifically assess the need for chemical controls.
An aligned approach would also provide a constructive basis for negotiating access to ECHA’s chemical safety database with the EU, which would avoid the costs and burdens on UK industry of having to re-register chemicals safety information in GB REACH.