Commission sees breakthrough on REACH chemicals law

The European Commission said it broke a deadlock on 25 March on setting the criteria for identifying hazardous chemicals, requesting companies to table plans to substitute them even if no alternatives have been clearly identified.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik and Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani announced today (25 March) that they have found a common approach to identifying and managing Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs).

SVHCs include chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems. They also tend to persist in the environment and accumulate in the body.

The agreement was announced during a visit by the two commissioners to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki.

The commissioners' "common interpretation of the REACH text" breaks the deadlock on substituting hazardous substances and represents a step change compared to the situation that prevailed under the previous Commission.

The agreement clarifies the authorisation procedure for hazardous substances on socio-economic grounds. Under the REACH regulation, even if a substance presents a risk to human health or the environment, authorisation may be granted if the socio-economic benefits are proven to outweigh risks arising from its use and if there are no suitable alternatives.

Under the Commission's new procedure, "all available information is to be considered and will be used in a so-called 'weight of evidence approach'".

In addition, companies which have been unable to identify alternative solutions for a dangerous substance will have to show they have carried out in-depth investigations and must indicate a timeline within which alternative substances could become available.

"Therefore substitution fully remains an objective in the authorisation process, even if it cannot be effected immediately," the Commission stressed.

According to the EU executive, implementation of the amended criteria will be subject to transitional arrangements. It will become mandatory for registrants two years after the entry into force of the agreed criteria, which will be stated in the revised Annex XIII of REACH.

Now that this deadlock has been broken, the Commission says it will shortly give "the long-awaited draft guidance on authorisation" to the ECHA to allow it to make progress on registering chemicals and managing Substances of Very High Concern.

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