Under REACH, consumers have the right to know whether the articles they buy contain any chemicals known as "substances of very high concern". These are chemicals with serious and often irreversible effects on health or the environment. Those substances may occur in many everyday products. Consumers can ask their supplier, who is obliged to answer within 45 days.
Many consumer articles may contain chemicals that are harmful to health or to the environment. These articles include clothing, furniture, sports articles, shoes, bags, garden decorations, office supplies, cleaning articles, or personal care products (the list is not exhaustive).
REACH established the setting up of a candidate list of "substances of very high concern", to which substances are being added regularly. A substance of very high concern can be carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic for reproduction, persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic in the environment). The candidate list signals to industry that these substances will eventually be phased out of the market, and intends to encourage companies to look for safer alternatives.
Consumers can play an active role in the process by taking an interest in the safety of the products they buy. Therefore REACH introduced in article 33 the "consumer right to know". Companies are obliged to answer a consumer inquiry about the presence of a substance of very high concern in an article, within 45 days.
It is not always easy to find the importer or producer of an article, or to know what to ask for. To find our more: see for example Health and Environment Alliance, HEAL's pages about this provision in REACH including a model letter. In Germany, Bund developed an online tool. By entering the product's bar code, the tool searches for the manufacturer and sends off the request. The manufacturer must now reply within 45 days, the consumer can make an informed decision, and the manufacturer realises that consumers are interested in knowing whether the products they buy are safe.
More recently, the project LIFE askREACH helps consumers and companies to apply the “right to Know” about substances of very high concern in articles (https://www.askreach.eu/).
The Commission aims to place all currently known and relevant substances of very high concern on the candidate list by 2020.