Our well-being in society depends for a large part on chemicals. Chemicals are everywhere, and are an essential component of our daily lives. At the same time, some chemicals can severely damage our health. Others could be dangerous if not properly used. There is a worrying increase in health problems that can be partially explained by the use of chemicals. Some man-made chemicals are found in the most remote places in the environment, but also in animals and humans. In the mid-nineties, the increased insight in the possible negative effect of chemicals led to the awareness, that the EU legislation then in force did not and could not provide sufficient information about chemicals to judge scientifically. The EU was on an unsustainable course in the chemicals sector.
Starting in the late nineties and causing considerable debate, a new horizontal chemicals legislation was developed, and in 2007, REACH entered into force. REACH’s primary aim is “to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment”. In the coming decade, REACH will place the burden of proof on industry, which has to collect or generate the data necessary to ensure the safe use of chemicals. This data will be publicly available through the central database held at the European Chemicals Agency and will help to close the current information gap on chemicals. REACH also provides rules for phasing out and substitution of the most dangerous chemicals. REACH is complemented by the new Regulation for Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures (CLP Regulation, January 2009). This Regulation incorporates the classification criteria and labelling rules agreed at UN level, the so-called Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). It is based on the principle that the same hazards should be described and labelled in the same way all around the world. Using internationally agreed classification criteria and labelling elements is expected to facilitate trade and to contribute towards global efforts to protect humans and the environment from hazardous effects of chemicals.
Other aspects of EU horizontal chemical legislation include the protection of laboratory animals. In the coming years, further legislative work may be done on endocrine disruptors, combination effects of chemicals and nanomaterials.
Sectorial chemicals legislation is also in the process of renewal: the Framework Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and the Regulation on Authorization of Plant Protection Products are expected to enter into force in the near future. In addition, in June 2009, the Commission proposed a new Regulation concerning the Placing on the Market and Use of Biocidal Products.