Firms using toxic chemicals 'named and shamed' in new database

  
Chemicals protective suit

Which companies are putting the most hazardous chemicals on the market? The information is now publicly available in a new database called the 'SIN List' after environmental NGOs filed a lawsuit asking for greater transparency.

The EU chemicals regulation REACH is providing new information about the production and use of chemicals in Europe after ChemSec and ClientEarth filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Justice.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has since late 2012 disseminated the information registered by companies from a wide range of sectors around the world about their production or imports of chemicals.

ECHA had previously refused to make this information publicly available, according to ChemSec, saying it was subject to confidentiality claims.

ChemSec director Anne-Sofie Andersson told EurActiv that this information was publicly available before the EU's regulation on chemicals, REACH, was initiated.

It was decided that under REACH, there should be more accessible information to citizens about which chemicals are hazardous and where they are produced. 

But when REACH entered into force on 1 June 2007, ECHA did not release the information.

"Therefore, we asked for it, but did not receive any response. We then initiated a lawsuit to receive this information which citizens have the right to according to conventions," Andersson said.

So far, ECHA has only released 1% of the names of the companies that have asked for confidentiality, she added.

ECHA officials told EurActiv that it did not disclose the names of registrants because there was an ongoing discussion as to whether the information could be published at all. Article 119 2(d) of REACH says that such information should be disseminated unless the registrant has submitted a valid confidentiality claim.

"The decision to publish registrants’ names was therefore taken at the end of a careful and considered discussion process. The data was not published due to an ongoing court proceeding," said Mikko Väänänen, a press officer at ECHA.

Some level of confidentiality is considered essential by companies to safeguard their business. CEFIC, a trade group which represents European chemicals manufacturers, complained recently that publishing company names against toxicity data sheets might give overseas rivals an insight into their innovation strategies.

New database with company names

ChemSec has now compiled information about the companies that have registered production or imports of the chemicals into its own 'SIN List' database.

ChemSec's SIN ("Substitute It Now!") List contains chemicals identified by ChemSec as fulfilling the criteria for Substances of Very High Concern as defined in the REACH regulation, and therefore likely to face future EU bans.

These are chemicals are which are for example carcinogenic or impair reproduction, but still present in many consumer products such as detergents, paints and toys.

Andersson said ChemSec was not trying to embarrass companies despite the 'SIN List' name.

"We do not really shame companies because we have used the information from ECHA so we are using publicly available information," she said.

Social responsibility

Andersson said socially responsible investors are often looking into a lot of information, but they tend to forget chemicals when they look for sustainability:

"When we look at socially responsible investors they look very much into carbon emissions, waste and how much water is used for production and then judge whether a company is sustainable or not. Only in few cases they look into what companies are really producing. For example, if they are chemical producers, are they then using lots of chemicals that are very hazardous?"

According to ChemSec, the new database can also be used by investors to limit risks, as companies with a large turnover from chemicals might face a ban on these later on.

Bernhard Thier, senior manager at German chemical giant BASF, whose company name appears in the database, told EurActiv that the company appreciates the engagement of NGOs in the debate on continuous improvement of the management of chemicals.

"However, the so-called 'Sin List' is misleading as it only lists chemicals because of certain intrinsic properties [hazard potential] without taking into account the exposure of humans and the environment to the substance," Thier said.

He added that BASF's Product Stewardship measures which can include the substitution of a specific substance in a given application are always based on the actual risk profile. Risk is defined by taking into account the hazard potential and the actual exposure to the substance with humans or the environment.

Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, declined to comment.

Positions: 

Sonja Haider, ChemSec's business and investors advisor, said:

"A less toxic world can only be achieved by greatly increased transparency in the chemical sector. We are therefore very pleased that we now have solid and up-to-date information about European chemical production.

"We believe that a wide range of stakeholders will find this new data useful, for example it is now easier than ever for financial investors to include the production of chemicals in their investment analysis. Besides the environmental and human health benefits there are clear market opportunities for companies that develop less hazardous chemicals portfolio alternatives."

Bernhard Thier, senior manager at BASF, said:

"We take any concerns regarding our products very seriously. By 2020, we will review our risk assessments for all substances and mixtures BASF sells worldwide in quantities of more than one metric tonne per year. We already reached 45% of this goal in 2012."

Timeline: 
  • 31 May 2013: Deadline for the second REACH registration for substances manufactured or imported in quantities of 100 to 1,000 tonnes per year per manufacturer.
  • June 2018: Third registration phase closes with substances produced in smaller quantities (1-100 tonnes).
External links: 

European Commission

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