Formed in 2007, the European Commission’s European Chemicals Agency ECHA was designed to implement European legislation related to chemical use in the European Union and disseminate information to industry, institutions and Member States on chemicals.
With around 650 employees from all 28 Member States, ECHA provides regulatory assistance and advice to various industries, including assessing application dossiers for chemical substances to be listed under its REACH regulation – a process it was working hard to harmonise and simplify.
REACH compliance has become ‘the priority’ for ECHA
Laurence Hoffstadt, scientific officer for hazard assessment at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), said a REACH review conducted in 2017 indicated the legislation was “effective but not necessarily efficient”.
“Since we started our activities, we have noticed major incompliance in registration dossiers,” Hoffstadt said, addressing attendees via video-link at the Cosmetic Consultants Europe (CCE) Open Academy 2019 in Cyprus earlier this month.
These incompliances largely related to a lack of supporting studies, insufficient documentation or no justified hypothesis for the approach used, she said, and mbsignificantly slowed down the process of accepting new substances as safe to use.
This, Hoffstadt said, was the reasoning behind ECHA and the European Commission publishing a joint action plan in June this year, proposing “concrete action” to improve REACH compliance and harmonise all stages of the process.
“Why compliance to REACH is really important is because it’s the first step and it has a direct impact on ensuring REACH delivers its objectives. If we don’t have information on the substance list to start with, we cannot confirm whether those substances need further regulatory action. Since the end of the last regulation deadline, compliance has become the priority for ECHA.”
A ‘concrete action’ plan to improve REACH compliance
Hoffstadt said the joint action plan aimed to screen all registration dossiers and perform a compliance check on all substances over 100 tonnes per year by 2023 and all substances in the 1-100 tonnage bands per year by 2027.
ECHA would also group all registered substances under REACH – over 16,000 – into low priority or priority; the latter being those substances which were in the process of being regulated. “In order to increase dossier evaluation efficiency, we are continuing to focus on the substances that matter. It means they have a high tonnage and are widely used in the EU, but it’s also the ones where we have a lot of data gaps that we need to assess more carefully.”
Beyond this, she said the action plan had been designed to improve clarity on certain legal provisions, create more harmonisation throughout all REACH stages and ensure better reporting and better follow up.
“With regards to improving the clarity of legal texts, these are actions mainly on the Commission side. So, based on our experience over the past ten years, ECHA has had the task to make proposals on how the Annexes could be amended.”
The overarching goal to this aspect, Hoffstadt said, was to make requirements “clearer for both registrants but also for authorities”.
More updates on how the action plan was advancing would be made towards the end of this year or early next, she said, and ECHA would continue to work collaboratively with industry where considered useful.
“We are very complementary on all that has been achieved so far, but there are still many challenges ahead for all of us. It’s not only the obligation to be compliant with REACH, it’s also an act of social responsibility to use chemicals in Europe safely,” Hoffstadt said.