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Chemicals

White Paper - Introduction

The White Paper recognises that there are problems with the current policy.

WEAKNESSES OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM

There is a lack of knowledge about the dangers of many chemicals on the EU market. This makes it difficult to assess their risks properly and to make informed decisions about controlling those risks.

The current process of risk assessment is much too slow. Only a handful of chemical substances are assessed at EU level each year.

Resources are concentrated too much on the assessment of "new substances" which make up less than 1% of the total volume of substances on the market, and not enough on "existing substances". This has the effect of stifling innovation in new chemical products.

POLICY CONTEXT

In order to meet these criticisms, the Commission adopted its White Paper on Chemicals on 13 February.

The overriding goal of the White Paper is sustainable development. It aims to achieve an appropriate balance between environmental, economic and social priorities which is consistent with the Commission's policy on sustainable development, and its strategic objectives for the period 2000-2005.

As well as trying to remedy the weaknesses in the current system in order to improve health and environmental protection, the White Paper aims to preserve the competitiveness of the EU chemical industry, the EU's 2nd largest manufacturing industry with some 40 000 companies and an annual turnover approaching € 400 billion and with about 1,5 million directly employed and 4 million jobs in total.

THE NEW REACH SYSTEM

The central element of the White Paper is a completely new system of Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation/restriction for new and existing chemical substances marketed in quantities of more than 1 tonne/enterprise/year. This is known as the REACH system.

The 30 000 existing substances affected will be processed on a phased basis over a period of 11 years (ending 2012) starting with those marketed in highest volumes. While this will require an additional effort from industry in terms of costs and manpower, it will reduce current testing requirements for new substances to encourage innovation.

Registration will require producers and importers to undertake tests on the chemicals they produce and provide this information to a central authority (probably the European Chemicals Bureau).

Evaluation of this data will be managed by Member State Authorities and may lead to further test requirements for substances produced in higher volumes.

Authorisation will apply to substances of very high concern, as identified during the evaluation process. Authorisation will apply to two groups of these, namely cancer-causing substances, termed CMRs categories 1 & 2, and to certain very environmentally persistent substances, termed POPs.

A system of Rapid Restrictions will apply to all other substances of concern, though a working group will be set up to look more closely at any possible change in the way to regulate persistent bio-accumulative and toxic substances (PBTs) and very persistent and very bio-accumulative substances (VPVBs).

The REACH System will apply to producers and importers of substances and to industrial users and formulators of these. It will not apply for the moment to substances in products though another group will be established to study products further.

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