Closing the loopholes on REACH

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The upcoming review of the REACH chemicals regulation provides an opportunity to close the loopholes on the legislation and regulate nanomaterials, endocrine disrupters and chemical cocktails, writes Monique Goyens.

Monique Goyens is director-general of BEUC, the European consumer organisation.

"EU legislators are this year due to review REACH, the major chemicals regulation. For a variety of reasons, this is a crucial opportunity to close existing loopholes.

First, REACH is unfit to deal with nanomaterials. Despite recent patchwork improvements, such as the recently updated European Chemicals Agency guidelines on manufacturers’ information obligations and the safety assessments of chemicals, there are still significant risks to the consumer safety and the environment which can be countered by amending REACH.

The one tonne threshold for registration obligations should be lowered from one tonne to 10 kilogrammes.

That there is no legal definition for the term ‘nanomaterial’ in REACH is a serious lack.

Furthermore, all nanomaterials should be considered ‘new substances’ and should necessitate safety testing before use.

There is insufficient transparency as to which products and services use nanomaterials. What consumers need and BEUC is calling for is a mandatory reporting scheme for manufacturers to specify in which products they use nanomaterial and what quantity.

All these goals can only be achieved by amending REACH or the adoption of new nanomaterial specific legislation.

Secondly, REACH must also ensure chemicals harmful to our hormonal system, known as endocrine disrupters, are more effectively regulated. The REACH review should introduce ‘endocrine disrupter’ as a separate category of concern and such chemicals should be classified.

The Commission should adopt a harmonised definition, thus allowing chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties to be quickly put on the candidate list of Chemicals of Very High Concern (CVHCs). Such chemicals would require authorisation prior to their marketing.

Third is the issue of so-called chemical cocktails. Despite a multitude of laws such as REACH, the General Product Safety Directive, sector-specific regulations on toys, food, medical devices etc., we as Europe’s consumers still come into daily contact with a chemical cocktail via the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the cosmetics we apply to our skin and the clothes we wear.

This potentially dangerous chemical cocktail can lead to chronic diseases such as infertility, diabetes or cardiovascular illness and can be carcinogenic.

At present, this chemical cocktail is insufficiently considered in EU legislation and the regulatory approach needs urgent modernisation by taking into account the latest scientific findings.

A final point we believe needs addressing during the REACH review is the blatant lack of enforcement – a fact underlined by a recent European Commission study. The resources available to national market surveillance authorities are inadequate to control consumer articles before they are placed on the market. Thus it is likely that consumer products such as textiles or toys containing harmful substances hit our shelves although their use is restricted.

Reviewing a law is an opportunity to make improvements based on past experience. Despite good first steps, improvements are still needed so that REACH makes the use of chemicals in Europe safer."

>> Read EURACTIV's full coverage of the REACH review

Subscribe to our newsletters