Come the 30 November will chemical substances be withdrawn from the European market causing massive disruption to manufacturing supply chains, or will the deadline pass uneventfully as was the case back in 2000 when the Y2K bug was set to wreak havoc across industry? Quite simply, I don’t know. Unfortunately, neither does the rest of industry, nor, possibly more importantly, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) who have the unenviable task of administrating and regulating the chemicals regulation REACH.
Why is this? Well REACH requires chemical substance manufacturers/importers to register each individual substance they place on the market. However, the registration process does not require these importers/manufacturers to declare their intention to register, or not, a particular substance.
It is this process flaw which is proving extremely worrying for manufacturers of aerospace, automotive, domestic, electrical and electronic products for example. They approach the deadline with the very real risk of not knowing whether certain substances they procure, and the specific uses in which they are applied, have been registered or not until after the deadline.
The problems surrounding REACH are not limited to a handful of obscure chemicals. ECHA remain unclear as to the fate of approximately 2000 chemical substances. Those 2700 substances for which ECHA is aware of a ‘lead registrant’, and therefore a predicted registration, are listed in its website; however the specific industrial uses are not.
Part of the problem with REACH is that is a large and complex piece of legislation. Whilst the objective it sets out to achieve is fully supported, it is nonetheless proving a difficult beast to manage. ECHA have been beset by criticisms from the outset, whether for the guidance it produces or the IT systems it has introduced. Just recently the UK government voiced its criticism of ECHA’s engagement strategy, arguing that “…better routes of entry and closer relations are needed with member states being seen as included partners”.
To avoid the potential withdrawal of business critical substances from the EU unnecessarily, and the subsequent collapse of related supply chains, EEF are coordinating industry sector activity and are writing to the environment and the business departments of Government to strongly encourage their support of our proposal for a 12-month delay of these substances from registration. This action would permit downstream users to obtain necessary registration data from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), and subsequent action to prepare separate registration dossiers, source alternative suppliers, etc. This will ensure that existing manufacturing processes will not be sourced outside the EU.
Considering myself an optimist I am hopeful that come the deadline we will all be able to breathe a sigh of relief as was the case back in 2000. To enjoy this moment of contentment will require an intelligent and practical interpretation of the REACH text to be agreed, and we still have some way to travel before this is realised.