Revision of REACH Regulation on the Table, with a View to Safer Products and Healthier Environment
03 June 2021
The European Commission has published a new initiative with the aim of furthering its EU chemicals strategy for sustainability. The initiative has as its goal the presentation of a Commission proposal for the revision of REACH by the end of 2022. Actions stemming from the initiative and the strategy aim to better protect the public and the environment against hazardous chemicals and to encourage innovation to develop safe and sustainable alternatives. Achieving these goals requires revising the EU rules governing the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals – in other words, the REACH Regulation.
Hong Kong sellers of chemicals and products containing them will likely already be familiar with some aspects of the EU’s complex chemicals law, i.e., the REACH Regulation. Together with the Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of chemicals (CLP Regulation), they are the key EU laws for the assessment and management of chemicals. The REACH Regulation, last evaluated in 2018, had concluded that REACH is effective but that there are opportunities for further improvement, simplification and burden reduction. The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability adopted in October last year also recognised the need for a targeted revision of REACH to achieve its objectives.
Importantly, despite the advances achieved by REACH in recognising harmful chemicals used in ordinary consumer products or mixtures, gaps in knowledge of many substances remain. In addition, REACH processes do not take combination effects of chemicals (known informally as the cocktail effect) into account. Among other deficiencies, The communication of hazardous chemicals or risk reduction measures in the supply chains is inefficient; the evaluation of registration dossiers and substances by the authorities is too complex and insufficient; and the current restriction process, outlawing dangerous chemicals from consumer or professional products, is too slow to sufficiently protect against risks from the most hazardous substances. To address the problems identified, the Commission is considering a range of possible measures. These include the following:
- Revision of the registration requirements: Various options for revising the registration requirements for EU manufacturers and importers will be analysed, including increased information on hazards of concern, documentation of safe use, registration of certain polymers, and information on the environmental footprint.
- Introduction of a Mixtures Assessment Factor (MAF): Options for addressing the risks of exposure to several substances (combination or cocktail effects) will be analysed.
- Simplifying communication in the supply chains: Options for improving safety data sheets (which contain information for downstream companies and workers on chemical risks and protective measures) will be assessed, including in particular harmonised electronic formats.
- Reforming the restriction process: Options would include extending the generic risk approach to restrictions of various categories of risk, including endocrine disruptors, and substances that affect specific organs.
- Revision of provisions for control and enforcement: The increase in imports of products from countries outside the EU, including by consumers’ direct purchases through online portals, allows for imports of goods that are not subject to the necessary controls to ensure compliance with EU law. Options include establishing minimum requirements for national controls and enforcement, including stricter border controls.
Unfortunately for economic operators, they should expect that some changes to the REACH Regulation will lead to increased costs for industry, including for SMEs, throughout supply chains. This would be a result of, e.g., the obligation to register certain polymers and the increased information requirements for the registration of substances, as well as the introduction of new risk management measures.
The Commission hopes that the expected amendments to the REACH Regulation will lead to the improved regulation of substances, including by generating more data, and substituting the most problematic substances. Moreover, more efficient restrictions of the most toxic, persistent, mobile and/or bio-accumulative substances in products for consumer use and professional use, except for uses essential for society, will further reduce the emission of these substances, thus improving consumer health and environmental protection.
While changes should be expected to the REACH framework, they will not happen overnight, allowing Hong Kong sellers time to adjust to future new requirements. An impact assessment will be carried out with the objective of identifying and assessing the economic, social and environmental impacts (both positive and negative) of the various options being considered. The impact assessment will be finalised and presented together with the Commission’s proposal for revision of REACH by the end of 2022.