European Commissioners Tajani and Potocnik visit ECHA, issue communication on future SVHC management

To mark their ambitions in the implementation of REACH, Vice President Tajani, Enterprise, and Commissioner Potocnik, Environment, travelled together last week to Helsinki, to visit the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA.

Ahead of the visit, several stakeholders have issued letters to the Commissioners, urging them to speed up REACH implementation, in particular concerning the substance of very high concern (SVHC)-processes. For example, Members of the European Parliament Environment Committee have through their chairman, Mr. Jo Leinen, sent letters to the two Commissioners, requesting them to speed up and finalize the revision of the PBT criteria in REACH, expressed concern about the fact that as of yet, not one single Candidate List SVHC has been listed by the European Commission in Annex XIV of REACH, and called for the establishment in the next two years of a comprehensive Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern consisting of several hundreds of chemicals.

Likewise, European NGOs have presented similar demands to the two Commissioners ahead of their Helsinki visit.

As a response, the two Commissioners on the day of the visit issued a press release and a memo, presenting an agreement on the three highlighted issues.

At this initial stage, ChemSec would like to comment on the parts of the agreement concerning the PBT criteria and a roadmap for Substances of Very High Concern, SVHCs:

Criteria for the identification of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (Annex XIII)

Commissioner Potocnik and Vice-president Tajani announced an agreement reached on setting the criteria for the identification of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances, or very persistent and very bioaccumulative. According to the agreement, of which the details are not yet public, all available information is to be considered and will be used in a so-called "weight of evidence approach".

If this would include for example information made available through bio-monitoring, we see this is a step in the right direction of a achieving satisfactory definition of PBTs in the REACH-process.

Unfortunately, the criteria will only apply after a prolonged transitional phase: the implementation of the new criteria will be become mandatory only 2 years after the entry into force of the agreed criteria, which would hinder a correct registration and management of the most relevant PBT substances, as the substances registered in the first round of registration, i.e. with the deadline November 2010, will not be covered by the new PBT-criteria.

Roadmap for the identification of substances very high concern

The Commissioners state that the Commission is determined to identify additional substances of very high concern (SVHC) for inclusion in the so-called "candidate list". The Candidate List currently contains 29 substances. In order to boost the Candidate List process, the two Commissioners announce that they, after consulting ECHA, agreed on a roadmap for the inclusion of 106 priority SVHC substances by 2012, 15 of which the Commission will ask ECHA to work on. The Commission calls on the Member States to prepare dossiers for the remainder.

This ambition confirms the work that ChemSec has done so far in the SIN List project. A credible Candidate List far outnumbers the meagre 29 substances that have so far been listed. That the Commissioners in charge now are talking three figure numbers when discussing the Candidate List is a positive signal. 106 is a step towards the 356 listed in the SIN List.

We also welcome that the Commission takes on its share by asking ECHA to prepare dossiers for some of these.

However, 106 new substances over the course of three years is not overly ambitious. It is not sufficient to, within a foreseeable future, achieve control of the worst chemicals on the market that REACH was designed to. It is not the strong signal to the market from the EU Executive that is needed in order to achieve market-induced substitution of high concern chemicals, nor does it provide leadership needed to encourage Member States to boost the process of nominating SVHCs.

The new Commissioners are showing steps in the right direction, the SIN List remains relevant. But there is no room for complacency especially since the Commission estimates a number of 1500 substances fulfilling SVHC criteria.

Leinen letter to Vice Commissioner Tajani, Enterprise
Leinen letter to Commissioner Potocnik, Environment
Letter from European NGOs

Commission Press Release
Commission Memo