Global Processing

Europe faces up to costly new chemical regime

June 16, 2008
According to the UK Times Online, companies that use or manufacture industrial chemicals could face billions in compliance costs after one of the most complex regulatory regimes ever established in Europe began operating recently.

The culmination of a decade-long attempt to overhaul the European Union''s chemical policy, the newly-created European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), based in Helsinki, has begun the task of scrutinising more than 30,000 chemicals in commercial use across the continent.

The agency is tasked with enforcing strict and wide-ranging regulations introduced last year that require companies to identify and quantify the substances they use and register them with a central database. The use of unregistered chemicals will become illegal.

However, lawyers have warned that the costs of complying with the new laws could cripple many smaller and specialist manufacturers.

Under the new rules, companies will be required to collect detailed information and pay for extensive testing if no information is available. According to the Commission''s own estimates, the cost of complying could rise to €5.2 billion over the next 15 years, with some industry estimates putting the figure considerably higher.

The Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances (Reach) regime was introduced because of the European Commission''s concern that there was a lack of information on the danger to humans and the environment of many of the chemicals used in commercial processes.

The Commission also wanted to shift the burden of regulating chemical safety from governments to the private sector.

The regulations, which bring together more than 40 separate pieces of legislation, are some of the vastest in scope ever introduced in Europe.

They affect not only chemical companies, but manufacturers in industries such as transport, electronics and textiles. Food producers, for example, will be required to provide detailed data on substances used in their packaging and the products used to clean their factories.

Certain chemicals deemed to be high risk will require special authorisation to remain on the market and even then companies will have to demonstrate that there are no safer alternatives to continue using or selling them. Substances such as water, minerals, pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs will be exempt.

During an initial pre-registration, the ECHA expects to receive around 180,000 dossiers through its website, with companies required to provide fuller information on their chemicals over the next 15 years.

The sheer volume of submissions expected has raised fears that the agency will not be able to cope after its website experienced significant technical problems earlier in the year.