While we rely heavily on chemicals for many purposes, we do not know a lot about the chemicals we use. Very few have actually been tested, and for most we have very little data. Yet some chemicals can cause various serious diseases and some have endocrine-disrupting properties.
In part to give us better information on, and control of, chemical uses, the European Union (EU) passed the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) law. It is a regulation passed in 2006,which became effective in 2007 and is being implemented over a decade. It oversees the production and use of chemical substances, requires the eventual registration of all chemicals in quantities of one tonne or more that are manufactured in or imported to the EU, and establishes special rules for “substances of special concern.” Special concern substances are required to be progressively replaced by suitable alternative substances or technologies that are economically and technically viable. The law places responsibility and burden of proof on companies to manage risks from substances they manufacture or market in the EU.
The law applies not just to chemical companies, but also makers of electronics, textiles, tires, toys and others that incorporate chemicals into their products exported to the EU. Manufacturers and importers are required to make sure that what they make or import does not contain chemical substances in excess of regulations under REACH.
Knowledge is power and freedom, so REACH is a major step forward for environmental protection efforts in Europe.
Some further ideas to explore on REACH
Select two products that you enjoy and use often, even daily, and determine what chemicals are contained in each, how much of each chemical is contained in the products, and whether the chemicals present risks.
Select two products that your child, spouse, or parent uses often, even daily, and determine what chemicals are contained in each, how much of each chemical is contained in the products, and whether the chemicals present risks.
For each product, are there alternative products that provide the same benefits but do not have any chemicals.
European Commission, Enterprise and Industry, REACH ec.europa.eu/enterprise/sectors/chemicals/reach/index_en.htm
REACH is administered by the European Chemicals Agency, echa.europa.eu/web/guest/regulations/reach/
REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and restriction of Chemicals www.nefab.com/REACH_Chemicals_law_Europe.aspx
UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, EU Rules on the use of chemicals: Guidance on implementing REACH www.gov.uk/eu-rules-on-the-use-of-chemicals
Environmental Leader, REACH Regulation: The 5 Most Commonly Asked Questions www.environmentalleader.com/2010/09/02/reach-regulation-the-5-most-commonly-asked-questions/
Editor’s Update: 10 Feb 2014
In Ireland, under REACH, the Chemicals Act has designated the Health & Safety Authority as the Central Competent Authority (CA) and CA for industrial chemicals, the Environment Protection Agency as CA for matters relating to environmental protection, and the Department of Agriculture as CA for matters relevant to biocides and plant protection products.
Chemical Business Services Division, Health and Safety Authority, Safe Supply, Use & Management of Chemicals www.hsa.ie/eng/Topics/Chemicals/