Anna Latham, environmental advisor to the manufacturers' organisation EEF, argues that the REACH regulation will impact far beyond the world of the chemical sector
Despite its misleading name, the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regulation will not just impact upon the chemicals sector; there are also implications for those manufacturing and importing a wide variety of other substances within the EU, as well as the responsibilities placed upon downstream users of substances. With votes in Parliamentary Committees expected this month and the UK Presidency of the EU Council making political agreement on REACH a priority, this legislation continues to be a hot topic throughout the EU.
Discussions surrounding REACH have so far focused largely on chemical industry issues. The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) in the UK and the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) have rightly been heavily involved with the legislation from the start, but the inorganic sector is still fighting for its voice to be heard. Similarly, those campaigning on behalf of downstream users have different concerns to the main chemical producers.
To date the inorganic sector's concerns have been voiced at European level, largely by the REACH Alliance, representing the major inorganic production sectors, including paper, cement, glass and metals. Lobbying has included pushing for a risk-based prioritisation system that would delay the registration of high-volume low-risk substances and prioritise those of most concern. It has also included exemptions for some primary raw materials as well as recycled wastes.
The results of business impact studies, carried out by KPMG on behalf of the Voice of Business in Europe (UNICE) and the Commission, have been interpreted by some as proof that REACH will not have a negative impact on business. However, the methodology used for the studies fails to take account of many indirect costs, and demonstrates quite clearly that significant difficulties in interpretation of the legal text exist, particularly for those who fall outside the traditional chemicals industry.
For inorganic manufacturers and downstream users in particular, uncertainties remain with regard to the actual impact upon business. Whatever the nature and the scale of the impact, there can be no way of assessing it until REACH is finalised and comes into force.
In addition, the results of the Strategic Partnership on REACH Testing (SPORT) programme have recently been released. Although a useful exercise, this study focused upon workability for the chemicals sector rather than upon the implications for wider industry.
There will be many businesses covered by the regulation as downstream users. Although the Commission believes that the views of SMEs have been taken on board, for example by reducing the registration burden for substances in the 1-10 tonne bracket, these 'improvements' have largely been for SME producers of substances, rather than downstream users. None of the impact studies so far have looked at the true cost to downstream users embedded in a supply chain.
With increasing regulation from the European Union, the manufacturing industry has been moving production outside the EU for some time and, in the UK, we are becoming increasingly dependent upon innovation through research and development. Although within REACH there is a five-year exemption on R&D for manufacturers and importers
of substances, this does not extend to downstream users of substances.
Many high-technology industries, such as the mobile phone sector, operate in a fast-moving market with constant demand for new and better technology. Research and development therefore has to take place within a very tight profit margin and within a very short timescale - usually around six months. Time-consuming registrations and authorisations for substances are also likely to add costs, and will certainly slow such R&D processes down.
REACH is based on the premise that hazardous chemicals are 'bad' per se and should be phased out without taking into account the actual risk that using a particular substance poses. For example, small amounts of some hazardous substances are used in the production of metallic alloys. Obviously, these substances take on different properties once within the alloy and cannot, in normal use, be separated from the parent material. Yet REACH, as it stands, would require the testing and potential authorisation (or even replacement) of these materials in the same way as chemicals directly entering the consumer market.
We already have a wealth of legislation in place to control the human health and environmental risks posed by the use of such chemicals during production. It is right that REACH should be used to assess and control the impact of those substances that pose a serious risk.
The way it is presented currently, however, means there is a risk that REACH will end up as just another confusing and expensive paperwork exercise.
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