On the economic impact of the proposed legislation, the Commission, industry and NGOs have all come up with very different estimates. The Commission estimated the overall economic impact at around 2.3 billion euro over 11 years (0.05 per cent of the annual turnover of the sector), but these figures were heavily disputed by industry studies performed by the German BDI and the Mercer study in France. NGOs, on the other hand, compared the costs to industry with the financial gains from reductions in public health costs and less negative impacts on the environment.
As regards the final agreement, reactions were mixed.
European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) Director-General Alain Perroy said that he regretted the "unnecessary requirements added to the authorisation element of REACH" relating to the substitution of dangerous substances.
"It will clearly add to costs," said Perroy who denounced the "illusion" that substitution could be governed by a "command and control approach". The end result will be "legal uncertainty" for business and, consequently, reduced investments and innovation, Perroy warned.
European engineering association Orgalime, REACH will force changes to the whole supply chain of companies which frequently use many chemicals in consumer goods such as mobile phones. "It is not always easy to find an equally performing and reliable new supplier," said Orgalime Secretary-General Adrian Harris.
Guy Thiran of Eurometaux warned that key raw materials used in the metal industry would likely become costlier under REACH. He pointed out that naturally derived substances such as ores and concentrates do not fit in the categories defined under the draft. "Metals are elements, not conventional man-made substances," Thiran pointed out. "Alloys do not behave in practice as simple preparations."
Not all of the comments were negative, however, with UNICE, CEFIC, Eurometaux and Orgalime adding that some aspects of REACH had "moved in the right direction".
"Companies will not have to elaborate a Chemical Safety Report for substances [produced or imported] below ten tonnes a year. This is good news, particularly for SMEs," they said.
"Another example relates to 'data protection' where companies may now request confidentiality for the name of their substance in order to protect their information from unfair competitors."
Small-business organisations said that they appreciated efforts made to ease the bureaucratic burden for SMEs by cutting down on safety assessments for substances produced in smaller quantities. But overall, small business organisation UEAPME said the result is "quite disappointing."
The European trade union confederation (ETUC) welcomed the fact that the burden of proof is now firmly placed on producers to prove that their products are safe. "That marks clear progress, because industry will now have to provide information on the safety of their chemicals before they can put them on the market," said Joel Decaillon of ETUC.
Environmental organisations were doubtful about the compromise. On the positive side, Greenpeace and the WWF welcomed:
- The fact that companies will now be responsible to prove the safety of chemicals produced or imported in large volumes (above 10 tonnes a year);
- that there is a mechanism to replace persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals if safer alternatives exist, and;
- that the public is allowed to request information about the presence of chemicals in products.
But on the negative side, they pointed to "major loopholes". These include:
- Less stringent safety requirements for carcinogens and chemicals which can cause birth defects and reproductive illnesses;
- substances imported in low volumes (below ten tonnes per year) for which "no meaningful safety data" will be required, and;
- provisions relative to 'high-concern' chemicals that will still be allowed onto the market if producers can prove that they can be "adequately controlled" when a "safe threshold" can be defined where their detection is considered as posing no threat to human health.