Materials and Chemicals

EU’s REACH Called "Threat" to Chemical Innovation

20 May 2016

It’s called REACH, the European Union’s system of regulations governing the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals. The set of rules took effect in June 2007 and calls for the phasing in of requirements governing the manufacture, tracking, transportation and eventual ban of chemicals deemed to be harmful to health and the environment.

Now, as additional mandates loom, the European chemical industry association, known by the acronym CEFIC, is calling the regulations an over-REACH that threatens to stymie innovation.

Chemical lab technicians inspect the surface structure of a silicon wafer. Image source: BASF SEChemical lab technicians inspect the surface structure of a silicon wafer. Image source: BASF SEThe most recent controversy targets REACH regulations that require manufacturers to register thousands of chemicals currently on the market and submit them for safety screening and authorization.

The early stages of REACH involved chemicals produced in quantities greater than 1,000 metric tons per year. Now, thousands of chemicals produced in lesser quantities will come under the same scrutiny.

In fact, the European Chemicals Agency, or ECHA, the EU body that oversees implementation of REACH, expects up to 70,000 chemicals will be registered by the 2018 deadline for substances produced in the smallest quantity band, those between 1 and 100 metric tons per year.

This is three times more than for previous REACH deadlines that covered chemicals produced in larger quantities and may impact many small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs.

CEFIC estimates that 96% of its 29,000 member companies are SMEs. Says the association’s Director General Marco Mensink, “CEFIC wishes to ensure that policymakers and regulators adequately consider impacts on innovation before taking decisions, from investment in new technologies to the marketing of new products and processes in the EU.”

CEFIC Vice President Tony Bastcok goes even further, complainsaying that chemical companies are now spending more money on regulatory compliance than innovation at a time when Europe is struggling to compete globally.

“The burdens that are awaiting us are still there. And yet this monster continues to devour the innovation of Europe,” he says.

However, not all chemical companies want to see the European Commission delay the REACH registration requirements or alter the current list of substances to be brought into regulatory compliance.

German chemical maker BASF, ranked as one of the world’s largest chemical companies, remains supportive of the regulations.

“REACH aims to ensure that chemicals are handled in the EU without risks for human health and the environment,” the company said in a statement. “BASF welcomes the EU Commission’s decision not to impede the ongoing implementation of REACH and not to propose legal revisions to the regulation before 2018.”

The company says, however, that it’s concerned that REACH’s complexity may jeopardize the goal of strengthening innovation and competitiveness of EU’s chemical industry.

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