This week, after a 10-month wait, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice has responded to a deregulatory push from industry to reduce the requirements for safety data on substances registered in UK REACH. The Government has announced it will develop a new data registration model in consultation with stakeholders. To “provide time for this work”, however, the system (covering Great Britain; Northern Ireland remains in EU REACH) will operate for another 4 years without comprehensive safety data on the highest volume and most hazardous chemicals. This creates a situation where the UK system is ‘ignorance-based’, unlike the EU’s science-based approach.
The aim of industry’s push to provide less safety data was to reduce their costs for accessing data that is already registered in EU REACH. This new delay to finding a solution to address the central data challenge of good chemicals regulation questions the viability of the current UK REACH regulatory model, which is based on duplicating EU regulatory processes.
In our view, the opportunity should now be taken to undertake a review of the system, and to explore the pragmatic option for avoiding the costs and burdens on industry without undermining public health and environmental protection, by closely harmonising with the EU’s data-rich REACH system.
On 6th December, the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced it would:
- Explore a “new registration model” for the data packages industry provides for substances they manufacture and place on the UK market, in consultation with stakeholders;
- Consult on extending the deadlines by which companies must provide full registration data, to provide more time to develop a workable model. It recommends that safety data on the most hazardous and highest tonnage substances do not need to be submitted for another 4 years, proposing an extended deadline of 27th October 2025.
Dangers of yet more delay
The delay to accessing full chemical safety data will make it difficult for the UK regulator to identify, monitor and control risks from hazardous chemicals, and to defend controls from legal challenge. It is not uncommon in the EU system for chemicals companies to challenge the evidence used for controls, which can result in a control having to be withdrawn. For example, Chemours is currently challenging, in the European Court of Justice, a decision to designate its GenX PFAS as a Substance of Very High Concern under EU REACH.
As the UK delays populating its own database, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is moving forwards with a series of reforms to address weaknesses and gaps in its safety data. This week ECHA published reports on over 450 substances in 19 groups, using advanced techniques to predict the hazard properties of those chemicals with more limited safety data. In addition, the EU is now working on further strengthening of its chemical regulatory system through its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. The ECHA database is already the most extensive in the world.
This is now the second time UK deadlines have been extended. The first delay was taken forward by the REACH etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, that extended the deadline from two years after exit day (31st December 2020) to within 2, 4 or 6 years from 28th October 2021 (depending on tonnage band and/or hazard profile). This regulation was drawn to the to the special attention of the House by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the most ‘severe’ course of action this committee can take, and was subject to a ‘motion of regret’ in the Lords.
There is another way
To ensure continued protection of UK consumers and the environment, the UK should as a minimum apply EU risk-management decisions during this period, as the EU system has access to full data and can properly evaluate the risks. The UK cannot, with credibility, continue to take a different view of data it cannot access. If it needs the EU data to defend a control against a legal challenge from industry, Article 120 of EU REACH provides a potential route by which the UK could ask ECHA for the data to support an EU control it mirrors.
Dr Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust said:
“This announcement effectively kicks a solution to the central data challenge of good chemicals regulation into the long grass, meaning that the UK system will not have registration data on the highest volume chemicals for another four years – 15 years after the EU REACH registration deadline for these chemicals.
“This delay begs the question as to whether GB REACH is a viable regulatory system, and CHEM Trust calls on the government to undertake a full review and instead develop a system where the default is to adopt decisions made by the EU’s data-rich REACH system.”
- CHEM Trust has been quoted on this issue by ENDS, Chemical Watch and Politico.
- Letter of 6th December 2021 from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to industry leaders about UK REACH chemicals registration.
- Deadline for UK REACH to be extended: Government to consult on UK REACH deadlines, 6th December 2021
- CHEM Trust blog: Joint NGO letter calls on UK Ministers to resist proposals to deregulate GB REACH, March 2021
- Joint NGO letter to UK ministers, February 2021
- Chem Trust blog: UK industry pushing post-Brexit deregulation of chemical laws, but the Swiss model is better for everyone, February 2021