Although the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) keeps on doing its job and continuously recommends new substances for inclusion on the Authorisation List, nothing is happening at the Commission’s end. In fact, there have been no new additions to the list since September 2014, even though ECHA has put forward 20 new suggested substances (and will recommend an additional batch of chemicals this autumn) while also claiming that “authorisation is working well“.
In its defence, the Commission was pretty candid about the whole situation back in 2014. It announced that it would not add any new substances to the Authorisation List, or annex XIV as it’s also called, until a number of industry issues were resolved. These issues, brought to the attention of the Commission after some very loud shouting from parts of industry, revolve for example around spare parts and low-volume substances. Basically, parts of industry that work with products that fall under these two categories find the whole annex XIV process very burdensome and disproportionate.
“Would you tell the construction workers building a house to lay down their tools and go home just because someone has an issue with the kitchen tiles?
No, get back to work; there are plenty of things that could be done on the house that doesn’t involve the tiles.”
Fine, I understand that. ChemSec and other NGOs also have opinions and suggestions for how issues surrounding annex XIV should be handled. But the big question is: why are issues regarding one tiny aspect stalling the whole process? Would you tell the construction workers building a house to lay down their tools and go home just because someone has an issue with the kitchen tiles? No, get back to work; there are plenty of things that can be done on the house that don’t involve the tiles.
What’s more, since September 2014 the Commission has also decided to carry out a consultation process to gather information about economic aspects of adding substances to annex XIV. And both the member states and the Commission have been putting forward additional arguments for not recommending or including new chemicals on annex XIV, such as “lack of alternatives” for a specific substance, or how “important” a specific substance is for industry. I understand those arguments; in fact in some cases they are reasonable. But in terms of adding new substances to annex XIV, arguments like that are completely irrelevant.
I actually think it’s a bit embarrassing that we as NGOs need to remind legislative bodies about the law:
The REACH regulation states that substances from the Candidate List should be recommended by ECHA to the Commission for inclusion on annex XIV with priority given to high-volume substances – substances with persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic properties and substances with wide dispersive use. Specific uses may be exempted if other EU regulations give the same level of protection for human health and the environment. That’s it! It says nothing about economic considerations or lack of alternatives.
Those arguments are valid only when a substance is already on annex XIV, when companies have the possibility to apply for authorisation. Authorisation for no-threshold substances will be given if no alternatives are available and their use is of importance for society. But a lack of alternatives and economic considerations are not valid reasons to stop adding new chemicals to annex XIV.
So the sad truth is that irrelevant arguments and industry issues have halted the process for two years now, and put EU citizens at unnecessary risk by prolonging exposure to some very hazardous chemicals.
It is now time to get back to work; pick up the hammer, pick up the nails, start plumbing, fix the electrics, lay the roof and continue building that house. We can deal with the kitchen tiles later.