Chemicals are all around us, all the time. They make the products that we use every day soft or hard, washable, degradable, transparent or colourful. Up to 100,000 chemicals may be in use in the EU, but we know very little about their impact on human health and the environment.
The new regulatory system (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) which entered into force on June 1, 2007 is changing this, providing us with the information we need to use chemicals safely and ensuring that our chemicals policy will offer a high level of protection to consumers, workers and the environment for the decades to come.
Manufacturers and importers of chemicals will have to register substances they produce and import over a volume of 1 tonne per year with the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki who will provide the information needed to use them safely. This information will be available to all users in the supply chain. REACH also creates a "candidate list" of chemicals that are particularly hazardous. The list is expected to grow substantially over the coming years. For the chemicals on the list specific information requirements apply and their use or placing on the market may have to be authorised.
REACH will not only benefit the environment and citizens but also boost the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry. By fostering innovation and ensuring high safety standards REACH makes a major contribution to "Greening the Economy", one of the major objectives of this Commission.
Setting up REACH was a major accomplishment, and implementation is our current challenge. Another challenge is the ongoing work on. While REACH considers the effects of single substances, we are most commonly exposed to a cocktail of many different substances and this presents remaining knowledge gaps for us to address – as recognised by the December 2009 Environment Council.
Developing the right policy response to the rapidly emerging field of nanomaterials will also be key, providing safety for people and the environment while fostering the development of promising technology.