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ChemSec transparency lawsuit against ECHA ends in stalemate

ChemSec transparency lawsuit against ECHA ends in stalemate

EU court rules ChemSec was right asking for the names of the chemical manufacturers that produce SIN-list chemicals, but not the...


ChemSec launch the Textile Guide

ChemSec launch the Textile Guide - A new tool to tackle chemicals in textiles

Up until now brand owners and other companies in the textile sector had to invest a lot of money in chemical expertise in order to produce toxic...


A well-functioning authorisation process drives innovation

The authorisation process

Find the latest updates for ChemSec's authorisation work


SINimilarity gets an extensive update

Free of charge chemistry tool empowers non-chemists

Non-profit ChemSec today reveals the updated SINimilarity tool.

The tool gives non-experts vital chemical...


What´s your chemical footprint?

What´s your chemical footprint?

Nowadays it's common business practice to know and publish the corporate carbon footprint. And the "What you measure – you can manage" approach...


We have the legislation - now it’s time to make it work

Guest Writer

Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission

We are dependent on chemicals. From the production of the food we eat to health, personal care and household products, we come into contact with chemicals continuously. Many chemicals contribute to our comfort and economy. The European chemicals industry enjoys annual sales worth more than 500 billion euro. It directly employs more than 1.2 million people in some 29,000 companies,including many small and medium sized enterprises. It is a significant driver of trade and economic growth.

However, the downside is that we know that some chemicals can cause severe damage to the immune system, the endocrine system, the nervous system and the reproductive system. And although we have a certain amount of knowledge about the effects of chemicals, there is still much more that we do not know.

The EU has over the past 10 years forged a truly revolutionary chemicals policy. With the adoption of REACH at the end of 2006, the EU completed a fundamental reform process of chemicals legislation. This process saw many new phenomena: from a high response to internet consultation to the heaviest industry lobbying known so far for any new EU legislation.

The European Union has been, and still is, very active in passing legislation on chemicals. European pesticides legislation is currently under review. We also have laws on handling hazardous waste, and precise rules banning the use of specific substances in products such as cosmetics and toys. We are not doing this because we love making rules or because we want to make life difficult for businesses, but because it is our responsibility and duty to safeguard public health and the environment.

The good news is that what’s good for health and the environment will also be good for European businesses. They will have the “first mover advantage”, because where Europe leads others will follow.

REACH entered into force on 1 June 2007. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been operational since 1 June 2008, when the pre-registration of phase-in substance started. We have the legislation and the means in place. Now it’s time to make it work! But to make it work, there are essentially three challenges we have to meet:

First, the huge amount of data to be gathered and shared. Companies manufacturing the same substance must share the information they have with fellow producers of that substance. They must also keep their customers informed of existing and new information about the properties of the chemicals, its safe use and handling.

Secondly, the current economic crisis could make firms reluctant to spend time and money on what could be seen as bureaucratic paperwork. I realise that REACH places heavy demands on industry, but the potential benefits are clear. For the industry REACH means more efficient working methods, higher levels of safety, fewer accidents, better workers’ health, higher productivity, new business opportunities, greater global competitiveness and enhanced credibility vis-à-vis the consumers and the public at large. For consumers and the environment REACH means, above all, better protection from dangerous substances, and the need to defend health and the environment is overwhelming. Moreover, the information often already exists. It is more a matter of organising it and sharing it.

The third challenge is substituting the most dangerous chemicals. REACH creates a candidate list of dangerous chemicals which should, over time, be replaced by less dangerous substances, when such substitutes become available. Industry would prefer to move slowly on placing substances on the candidate list. However, we already know that there are around a thousand chemicals classified as “substances of very high concern”. But there are only fifteen on the candidate list so far.

The shortness of the current list is mainly due to the fact that REACH and ECHA have fairly recently become operational. Proposals for the candidate list can be put forward by the Member States but also by the European Commission.

After this initial slow start, there will be a steady increase of the list over the coming years. In the meantime, I welcome the initiatives, like the SIN List, taken by the NGOs to draw the attention of the public and industry to the most hazardous chemicals that should be a priority for inclusion in the REACH authorisation procedure. I believe this work is important to drive the process forward. The next edition of the candidate list, including new proposed substances by the Commission and Member States, will be published in October 2009.

REACH is a unique concept and the world is watching closely. Many countries outside the European Union are following our progress and are considering similar legislation. But we must always bear in mind that the first aim of REACH is to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment.

If we continue to stick to this aim, I believe that over the coming 10 years we will see a more healthy and transparent chemicals sector, a more green and clean chemicals industry, less pollution in the environment, safer workplaces and safer homes.

But to make this vision of a sustainable development to come true, we need to continue to cooperate. SME’s and large companies need to be creative and seek cleaner and greener alternatives. Citizens and NGOs need to participate in the process, to ask critical questions about the safety of the chemicals in the articles on the market. And the European leadership have to have the heart and the courage to promote sustainable development. The beauty of which is that it brings the future and the rest of the world into the picture.

Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission