‘Unaware’ French firms set to miss REACH deadline

hazard_chemicals.jpg

The EU's REACH regulation requires companies to register all their dangerous chemical products and those they use in large quantities by 30 November. Yet in France, some manufacturers run the risk of missing the deadline as they are unaware that the law applies to them. EURACTIV France reports.

The French Ministry of Ecology and the Union of Chemical Industries (UIC) are confident that French businesses will meet the registration deadline.

"Based on information we have received from the associations, we believe the industry will be ready in time," said the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which centralises the applications.

On 25 October, 1,048 French companies had filed cases with the EU agency via the online REACH-IT portal. This represented 9.4% of the 11,000 requests registered across Europe on that date. Since the beginning of September, the number of notifications has soared.

The declaration of products comes in two stages. To ready the information for the ECHA, companies dealing in the same substance have to meet in a "substance information exchange forum" (SIEF), where a lead registrant is selected to compile a detailed dossier with chemical and toxicological data.
The others – as 'secondary registrants' – must then submit their own, lighter document containing information specific to their business.

Strict deadlines

"The deadlines are not negotiable, companies know this and are mobilised," says Sonia Benacquista, head of product management at the UIC.

Most French firms are now finalising the documents, despite the technical, legal and linguistic complexities of the registration procedures. "Compiling a dossier is hard work. It requires an increased knowledge of the substance," she noted. "The registration is considerable work," she added.

Some 'haven't realised' REACH covers them

However, the optimism of the UIC and the Ministry of Ecology is not shared by all.
According to two lawyers at French law firm Fidal, Frédéric Puel and Guillaume Pezzali, some companies have not realised that REACH applies to them: the regulation concerns not only chemical firms but also all companies that use the products. 

"They are less well-armed. Quite a lot of manufacturers haven't realised that they are implicated. There could be cases of non-compliance by companies that have not understood or been aware of the issues," the lawyers said.

In addition, they warned that "the European Commission advised the lead registrants to register their dossiers by 30 September at the latest, but despite this call companies have not done so".

Puel and Pezzali explained that these documents must be validated before the secondary registrants can send their requests. Yet, of those already received by the ECHA, 20% are incomplete: only 8,500 of a total of 11,000 notifications have been approved.

The risks of non-compliance are considerable. If industries do not submit their dossiers in time, they will no longer be allowed to sell or import the substance in question. France has also established a 'legal arsenal': companies could be on the receiving end of administrative and criminal penalties.

After years of heated debate, EU lawmakers agreed on a far-reaching proposal to review the way chemicals are approved in Europe, placing the burden on businesses to prove that their products are safe before they can be placed on the market.

The regulation, called the 'Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals' (REACH), aims to make chemicals safer for human health and the environment, as well as to stimulate innovation in the sector. It came into force in June 2007.

By the end of November, companies must register all hazardous products and substances of which they produce or import more than 1,000 tonnes each year with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). By May 2013, this will extend to substances of which they use more than 100 tonnes and by May 2018, all substances over one tonne.

  • 30 Nov. 2010: Deadline for companies to register substances of which they produce or import more than 1,000 tonnes a year and all hazardous products.
  • 31 May 2013: Deadline for registration of substances of which companies produce or import more than 100 tonnes a year.
  • 31 May 2018: Deadline for registration of substances of which companies produce or import more than one tonne a year.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.