WWF REACH BRIEFINGThe European Parliament Second Reading vote on the proposed EU chemical legislation REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), will take place on 13 December in Strasbourg. The last and most controversial issues at stake were sealed in the deal agreed by Parliament, Council and Commission on 30 November.
WWF presents here its overall assessment of what is likely to be the final REACH legislation.
Phasing out of hazardous chemicals (Authorisation)
Crucially, two groups of chemicals will be replaced whenever safer alternatives are available: those that are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (PBT) and those that very persistent and very bio-accumulative (vPvB). Examples for these categories are chemicals with DDT or PCB like properties, but also some brominated flame retardants (used in textiles and electronic goods) and perfluorochemicals such as PFOS used in the manufacture of kitchenware or textile finishings.
However, chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects, that affect DNA or disturb the hormone system or cause other serious illnesses (so-called CMRs and hormone disrupting chemicals) will continue to be put on the market even if safer alternatives are available. Authorisation will be granted when the producers can claim that exposure to these hazardous chemicals can be ‘adequately controlled’ (i.e. kept below a certain threshold) so as to pose no danger to human health and the environment. New methodologies for setting such thresholds will be developed for continued use of such chemicals instead of replacing them.
An example of a CMR chemical that would fall under “adequate control” is the phthalate DEHP (used as plasticizer in many consumer articles), which is toxic to reproduction. An example of a hormone disrupting chemical is Bisphenol A, which was found in the blood of many participants – including Ministers and Members of the European Parliament - in WWF’s bloodtesting survey.
The claim that chemicals of very high concern can be adequately controlled has been refuted by numerous scientific studies showing that hazardous industrial chemicals used in consumer products are widespread in house dust, rainwater, wildlife, in our own blood and that of unborn infants. With the substitution principle only applying to a small minority of chemicals, many substances of very high concern will stay on the market even when safer alternatives are available. This loophole represents little change from the current flawed system, which has failed to control the most dangerous chemicals and hinders safe, innovative products from entering the market.
Some politicians may claim that it is a key step forward that applicants are required to always consider if safer suitable alternatives are available and then provide a substitution plan. Unfortunately a serious flaw is built into the system: substitution plans will only be submitted when an applicant company itself identifies a safer alternative. Third party contributions will not be taken into account until the review. This is therefore an incentive for chemical companies to continue ignoring the existence of safer alternatives.
Providing sufficient safety information (Registration)
Further major weakening of the registration requirements have been avoided in this second round of negotiations in spite of strong pressure from industry.
It is important, however, to keep in mind that safety data required for registration of chemicals have been drastically reduced at first reading, in particular for chemicals produced in 1-10 tonnes per year. As a result thousands of chemicals could thus stay on the market, despite no health information being available.
Access to information for consumers
REACH was supposed to give EU citizens access to information about chemicals to which they are exposed. However, the final REACH text only allows the public to request information about the presence of a limited number of hazardous chemicals in products (those of very high concern).
Therefore, constant vigilance by European consumers will be crucial to push companies to give more guarantees on the safety of their products in spite of the poor regulatory requirements of REACH.
REACH means ‘work still in progress’ for a long time – not only for implementation but because the last trade off in the negotiations resulted in future reviews of many core elements of the legislation, including whether or not to substitute hormone disrupting chemicals, and whether to provide a chemical safety report for 1-10 tonnes per year CMR chemicals. Moving on from business a usual to securing safer products and safer chemicals is still a battle to be won.
Given all the loopholes and legal uncertainty built up in the final REACH text, effective improvements on the current situation will largely depend on the tight scrutiny of the European Chemical Agency, political will of Member States and market pressure for safer products. The very short term perspective taken in the REACH reform is a missed opportunity for the European Union to take a strong leadership in the global market for safer chemicals and products.
WWF staff will be in Strasbourg monitoring the vote on REACH from Monday the 11th to Wednesday the 13th of December. For interviews or further information, please contact:
-Noemi Cano, DetoX Campaign communications manager. Tel: +32 (0)479 610451
-Ninja Reineke, WWF Senior Toxics Programme Officer. Tel: +32 (0)497 506805