Hazardous chemicals are all around us - in food, clothing, toys, packaging, electronics and construction materials. Developed and included in a product to serve a function. Yet really we know very little about them. Sometimes nothing. About their short and long term effects on our health - our bodies contain traces of literally hundreds of man-made chemicals - and on the environment.
But we do know enough to understand that many of the chemicals in widespread use today are hazardous. They can, for example, cause cancer, disrupt hormonal systems or adversely affect reproductive functions. In fact, we have identified hundreds of such chemicals. But lack of awareness, slow legislative processes, resistance from the chemical industry and quite simply blind faith are preventing quick and effective action. What can be done? We can substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. And that is what the SIN List is all about.
A bold initiative
A few years ago the European Union approved a new policy on chemicals, REACH, which entered into force in June 2007. Thousands of chemicals manufactured in or imported into the European Union now have to be registered. This means that companies are obliged to provide specified health and safety information on those chemicals to the newly established European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, Finland. The success of REACH will depend on a prompt, effective process for identifying the most hazardous chemicals on the European market and replacing them with safer alternatives, thereby spurring innovation, competitiveness and clean production.
Consumers' right to know
The procedure for dealing with the most hazardous chemicals, and a cornerstone of REACH, is a process called Authorisation - a requirement for the producers or importers of the most hazardous substances to obtain a special permission before placing them on the market. At the heart of the Authorisation process is a Candidate list of chemicals that meet the criteria of Substances of Very High Concern defined in the legislation, such as those that may cause cancer or persist in our bodies and the environment for long periods of time. Connected to this list is a requirement for companies to provide information to consumers concerning the presence of these substances of very high concern in consumer products.
A big step, but a slow process
The Authorisation process and the Candidate list are of great importance to ensure control of hazardous chemicals. But they are also complex procedures, stretched out over time. According to the REACH time plan, the very first Authorisations will not take effect until 2014. What's more, not enough Substances of Very High Concern enters the system each year. We still have a long way to go.
The need for speed
In order to ensure an early start and proper execution of the vital REACH process, ChemSec, in collaboration with leading NGOs in the EU and beyond, has developed the SIN List. The SIN List is also supported by the market-leading companies in the ChemSec Business Group. The SIN List 1.0 was launched in September 2008 and the SIN List 2.1 now lists 626 (updated in February 2013) substances that has been identified by ChemSec as fulfilling the criteria of Substances of Very High Concern as laid out within REACH.
The aim of the SIN project is to speed up the REACH process and ensure that Authorisation is an effective tool to fast-track the most urgent Substances of Very High Concern for substitution. Another goal is to make it easier for businesses to reduce their use of hazardous substances, while inspiring other actors to use the SIN List in their substitution work.