The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is being sued over its refusal to release the names of companies producing some of the most dangerous chemicals in the EU market.
The lawsuit, brought by ChemSec together with environmental law organisation ClientEarth, alleges several violations of European laws designed to promote transparency, democracy, and legitimacy in EU policy-making.
The chemicals are 356 of those on the SIN (Substitute it Now!) list, developed by ChemSec in collaboration with other NGOs. The list comprises chemicals identified as Substances of Very High Concern in accordance with the criteria set up in EU chemicals regulation REACH. These are chemicals that can cause cancer, damage our reproductive system, or alter our DNA, as well as toxic substances that accumulate in nature with serious and long-term irreversible effects.
ECHA has refused to disclose both the names of the facilities producing these dangerous chemicals and the amounts in which they are placed in the EU market. ClientEarth and ChemSec state that this refusal conflicts REACH, designed to protect public health by prohibiting the unsafe use of chemicals, as well as EU transparency laws on disclosure of environmental information.
The application lays out five pleas in law which demonstrate that ECHA's decision is in violation of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention), Regulation 1367/2006 and Regulation 1049/2001.
- The public's right to information on chemicals is a basic principle of the REACH Regulation. ECHA must not be allowed to withhold information on such a critical issue, especially as it relates to chemicals found in consumer products and present in the EU in large quantities. We have exhausted all avenues to make ECHA meet its transparency obligations and are now compelled to go to court, says Vito Buonsante, toxics lawyer at ClientEarth.
- ChemSec and ClientEarth are fighting to establish a principle: that people have the right to know about dangerous chemicals to which they and their environment are exposed. These chemicals are present in many consumer products, from detergents and paints to computers and toys, and often in high concentrations. Knowing who is producing dangerous substances, and the level of exposure, is vital to safeguard the public. Commercial interests should not be given precedence over people's health, says Jerker Ligthart, SIN List project coordinator at ChemSec.
ECHA has a track record of being slow to disclose information about chemicals; pressure from the chemicals industry has so far been successful in making delays characteristic of the Agency's approach, despite this policy's clear contravention of REACH and EU principles established for almost 20 years. ClientEarth and ChemSec intend that their case will make the agency afford public health protection the precedence and immediacy it deserves.