The way that chemicals are controlled in the EU underwent a major change with the passing of the EU’s regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of chemicals (REACH) at the end of 2006.
The overriding aim is to ensure that the most dangerous substances are replaced with safer alternatives. In effect, businesses must prove that substances that they produce or use are safe – a change from the previous way chemicals were regulated which put the burden of proof on the authorities.
All companies that produce or use chemicals are being given obligations under REACH. Manufacturers and importers must gather information on the properties of all substances that they produce or import in quantities greater than one tonne per year and register them in a central database. Users of chemicals must apply risk management measures for certain substances and provide information on how they use substances to their suppliers.
Registration is to be staggered so chemicals are phased into the REACH system by 2018. The European Chemicals Agency, based in Helsinki, is the central authority dealing with the REACH system.
Provisions are made for companies that produce or use the same chemicals to work together in consortium at national and EU levels, in order to reduce to the minimum the administrative and financial burdens on companies, particularly for SMEs.
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