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EFA participated in the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) conference on Safer Chemicals, which took place in Helsinki on May 22nd. As official ECHA stakeholders, this conference was very important for EFA to understand the agency’s current priorities on the regulation of chemicals in the EU, and how they connect with allergy and airways diseases.

Improving compliance of REACH registration data

The 1st session of the conference focused on improving compliance of registration data from the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). ECHA Executive Director Bjorn Hansen laid out the vision of the agency to become the centre of knowledge on the sustainable management of chemicals.

Mr Hansen presented ECHA’s priorities for the period 2019-2023, revolving around the identification and risk management of substances of concern, the safe and sustainable use of chemicals by the industry, and the sustainable management of chemicals through the implementation of EU legislation.

Evaluation and lessons learnt from 10 years of chemicals evaluation

ECHA Head of Unit for Evaluation Ofelia Bercaru took stock of 10 years of chemicals evaluation, noting that the main reasons for non-compliance have been lack of documentation, data gaps and inappropriate adaptations.

Acknowledging the major compliance and quality issues with registration dossiers, Ms Bercaru presented what will be a joint ECHA-Commission Action Plan to tackle non-compliance, addressing all substances, improving the clarity of legal provisions, accelerating decision-making and improving evaluation of enforcement decisions. The plan is to be finalised by June 2019.

Non-compliance is of great concern for citizens

Representing the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Tatiana Santos addressed the non-compliance of chemical substances and dossiers. The issue is of great concern for citizens, as non-compliance has been endemic since the beginning of the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

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In practice, loopholes in compliance mean that chemicals are left largely unchecked, undermining human health and the environment. Ms Santos emphasized the responsibility of the industry to provide complete dossiers or face exclusion from the market for non-compliant substances (‘No Data, No Market principle’), thereby defending the right of civil society to go public against companies that break the law.

Finally, she called on ECHA to adopt stronger measures that improve, increase, and speed up completeness/compliance checks, and asked for greater transparency in the enforcement of the legislation by national authorities.

Substances of concern and safer alternatives

The 2nd Session focused on ways to tackle substances of concern. Among other speakers, Jerker Ligthard of ChemSec presented the tools produced by his organisation to address substances of concern. These include ChemSec SIN List and Market Place: the former is using REACH criteria to list high-concern chemicals, and offers scientific evaluations of official peer-reviewed data, while the latter is a global platform where companies can find safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals.

Workplace protection: Improving the safe use of chemicals

Finally, in the 3rd session the conversation was on improving the safe use of chemicals. The scope of the presentations included health in the workplace, where Elke Schneider of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) discussed potential activities to improve workplace protection.

EU-OSHA is running at the moment a campaign that promotes the identification of hazardous chemicals at the workplace, and stresses the importance of risk assessment on chemical substances among EU industries.

More information on the conference can be found here.