A senior member of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Brussels, urges U.K. companies to stay closely in touch with REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) regulations and to cooperate with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), Helsinki, once Brexit has taken place.
Executive director of product stewardship Peter Smith spoke at a public hearing organized by the House of Lords in London on June 27. There, he pointed out that industry across the European Union (EU) has invested heavily in REACH, developing an outstanding database of chemicals that helps ensure that all uses of chemicals are safe.
“The European Chemicals Agency is the best organization in the world to ensure we offer the benefits of chemicals while maintaining safety for the general public and the environment,” said Smith, adding that post-Brexit the U.K. might need to set up an equivalent organization.
His call is a reminder that very little movement on the subject has taken place since March when the U.K. government floated the idea that it might be able to remain part of EU agencies such as the ECHA in some form of associate membership.
However, there was no mention of this when the EU published its negotiation guidelines.
This, in turn, prompted a joint statement from Cefic and the U.K. Chemical Industries Association, London, expressing their concern at what a post-Brexit future might look like.
“While understanding that this should be seen in the context of the overall EU negotiating position, this omission gives us considerable cause for concern. We would like to highlight that the continued involvement of the U.K. in ECHA is not only in the interest of the chemical industry and downstream user industries on both sides of the Channel, but also in the interest of the public at large. Indeed, the implementation of REACH and associated legislation has benefited from U.K. involvement and it would be in our mutual interest for this to continue,” it noted.
The statement went on to say that losing UK expertise would only weaken the significant progress made in the evaluation and regulation of chemicals: “With a focus on ensuring protection of human health and the environment in Europe from chemicals, REACH is fast becoming an international reference standard in chemicals management. Establishing a separate U.K. agency would take years to achieve, and at significant cost threaten to waste a decade’s worth of investment into chemical safety by government and industry.”
The statement emphasized that a continued partnership between the U.K. and ECHA would avoid duplicate testing and related costs under REACH, as well as assuring continuity of supply to key customer industries such as aerospace, automotive and pharmaceuticals, all of which rely upon access to chemicals from both sides of the channel.
The way forward, it concluded, is to examine models for continued collaboration and regulatory consistency.
Meanwhile, on June 14, Cefic and ECHA agreed to work more closely to ensure the REACH knowledge database is maintained. The date itself is particularly significant as it was the third REACH registration deadline, meaning all chemicals on the EU market now come under the regulation’s purview.
This agreement particularly notes that the assessment of some substances or groups of substances has been scientifically challenging and, believing that early stage cooperation between industry and ECHA experts will contribute to further improvement, Cefic has committed to make further endeavours to promote a gradual and planned improvement of the compliance, quality and understanding of the registration dossiers. These include indicating to ECHA when a substance or group of substances is expected to create scientific or technical challenges that would benefit from discussion among substance experts; and organizing scientific and technical industry experts to discuss the critical issues.
For its part, ECHA is committed to: indicating to industry when a substance or group of substances is expected to present particular scientific or technical challenges that would benefit from discussion among substance experts; bringing together industry experts to discuss the critical issues in advance of the regulatory decision or opinion making; and providing feedback to industry on how to further improve the quality of dossiers.
The two organizations also have committed to work together to further improve the communication of safety information in the chemicals supply chain, and to agree on the identification of specific substances or groups of substances which require discussion on critical issues.
Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.