ChemSec welcomes Björn Hansen as new ECHA director
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ChemSec welcomes Björn Hansen as new ECHA director

Hopes experiences from the non-toxic strategy will influence the agency

On 1 January Björn Hansen took up the role of executive director at the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA. ChemSec warmly welcomes Mr Hansen, who was previously head of the Chemicals Unit at the EU Commission’s Directorate for Environment.

“Björn has known REACH from the start and is well respected by NGOs. I hope his energy and enthusiasm can give ECHA the sense of a fresh start,” says Anne-Sofie Andersson, director of ChemSec.

ChemSec hopes that one of the key areas Mr Hansen will look into is the REACH authorisation process – from speeding up the listing of SVHCs on the Candidate List to assuring that authorisation is not given for the continued use of SVHCs when there are available alternatives.

“The Candidate List, embodying anticipation of regulation, has repeatedly proven to be one of the most important drivers for innovation in the EU. However, the pace of listing substances has been embarrassingly slow and we have a very long way to go until all SVHCs are listed,” Ms Andersson adds.

Along the same lines, ECHA’s departing director, Geert Dancet, concludes in ECHA’s newsletter that “courage is needed to make REACH more effective”. While mentioning a number of issues he believes the agency has handled well under his leadership, he points to the slow authorisation system as a key problem. If substances are really of very high concern, they need to be acted on much faster,” he says.

In another interview, from Euractiv, Mr Dancet says that the slow process is a result of industry lobbying creating uncertainty among member states, which makes them reluctant to propose and agree chemicals for regulation. In a recent report, ChemSec takes a closer look at the process of populating the Candidate List. The report concludes that ECHA committees must be able to reach a decision on hazardous properties more often, without routinely asking for more data.

The other main issue for ChemSec is the later process of granting authorisation, where producers of alternatives tend to be disfavoured.

“We believe the ECHA needs to spend the same effort on reaching out to alternative providers as reaching potential applicants for authorisation. ECHA should spend equal resources on trying to understand the perspective of the alternative providers, as they currently do to understand and even improve the applications for authorisation. Otherwise, what signal does this send to progressive companies?” comments Anne-Sofie Andersson.

In his previous position at the Commission, Björn Hansen was in charge of the non-toxic strategy. Studies commissioned under this programme point out a number of problems in chemicals policies and implementation, including the ones mentioned above. ChemSec hopes that Björn will have the courage required, and looks forward to continued engagement and cooperation with ECHA. ChemSec will continue to push to make sure Substances of Very High Concern are identified and substituted.