REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. The main aim of the REACH Regulation is to protect humans, wildlife and the environment from the threat of industrial chemicals, whilst not undermining the competitiveness of the chemical industry.
REACH came into force in 2007 and gradually established a level playing field for old and new chemicals so that they had the same degree of testing. It therefore removed the ‘squatters rights’ of old chemicals, which prior to REACH had been able to stay on the market without adequate safety data just because they had been around for a long time. REACH also put the onus on industry, making them responsible for the safety of their chemicals. This is often termed ‘reversal of the burden of proof’. Prior to REACH, industry had not been required to check that chemicals were safe prior to use and discharge.
The final REACH legislation is weaker than the original Commission proposal. It took almost a decade to finally agree and was reported to be the most contentious piece of legislation ever to go through the EU. There’s more information on REACH at the European Chemicals Agency.
REACH is a key part of CHEM Trust’s work, and we are trying to ensure it is implemented effectively in order to protect human health and the environment. We are an accredited stakeholder at the European Chemicals Agency, and we are a member of their Endocrine Disruptor Expert Group.
There are two particularly important issues outstanding in REACH:
- The first relates to how hormone disrupting chemicals are treated under the authorisation procedure and whether REACH will ensure that these chemicals are phased out if a safer alternative exists, as there can never be a safe level of exposure.
- The second important issue is the agreement of criteria for a chemical to be considered to have endocrine disrupting properties. These criteria for identifying endocrine disrupting properties are very important because they will be used in many legislative fora.
REACH also does not adequately deal with the potential mixture effect, whereby several substances which act on the same target organs may add together to cause effects, even when each substance by itself is below the level expected to show effects. Implementing a non-threshold approach for hormone disruptors, and ensuring they are substituted with safer alternatives, would be a start in dealing with the issue of ‘mixture effects’ for such chemicals.
For more on hormone disrupting chemicals and their regulation in the EU, see our FAQ.
For the latest on our work on REACH, see our blog posts on REACH.