27 March 2019
Asthma , COPD, Allergy, Food Allergy, Other Diseases
- Chemicals, - Healthcare

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) organised its annual Accredited Stakeholder Workshop on 21 March 2019 in Brussels to mainly discuss ECHA’s Strategic Plan 2019-2023 with official stakeholders, like EFA.

Presented by Executive Director Bjorn Hansen, the strategic priorities of the agency include 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 implementation of EU legislation.

The Strategic Plan is underpinned on ECHA’s vision of being ‘the centre of knowledge on the sustainable management of chemicals, serving a wide range of EU policies and global initiatives, for the benefit of citizens and the environment’.

REACH legislation merely a gap-filler

According to Mr Hansen, the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is a ‘gap-filler’ legislation: it interacts with other EU policies on environment, workplace, and food, to regulate the use of chemicals by many industry sectors.

He underlined that one of the challenges of REACH is to ensure consistency of the EU regulatory system with a view to improve chemicals safety. A special case at hand is the circular economy concept, which requires chemicals and mixtures to be harmless for the environment, and at the same time being fully functional and circular (recyclable).

New tasks for ECHA, others to catch up

ECHA will soon take action on, among others, the definition of new Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) and the creation of a database of ‘Substances of Very High Concern’ in products. While the latter was initially planned for early 2020, ECHA will not be able to meet the deadline mostly due to resource restraints of the agency.

More engagement between ECHA and civil society organisations

Asked by EFA’s representative Panagiotis Chaslaridis, Mr Hansen underlined that ECHA is working hard to engage with civil society organisations, while constantly exploring ways to enhance this cooperation.

However, he acknowledged the need to find better ways to address vulnerable groups, such as people living with allergies and respiratory diseases, and their contact with chemicals both at their workplace and in private.

EFA is the only patient-led organisation within the current 115 ECHA’s accredited stakeholders, and one of the very few health advocates from European civil society. We would also encourage ECHA not to treat civil society, like EFA exactly the same or in the same pool as the industry associations whose products are scrutinised by ECHA.

Panel discussion focused on maintaining public trust

In the panel, the discussion focused on how ECHA can maintain public trust, in view of its new strategic priorities. While all panellists agreed that awareness on chemicals has increased on the industry side, some noted that there is still much to be done vis-á-vis the public, especially in light of scandals like Dieselgate (the use of fraudulent techniques by the car industry different techniques to reduce the pollutant emissions of diesel and petrol engines during homologation tests).

Some of the points raised were the considerable time required for the evaluation of a chemical substance. Furthermore, participants showed concern about the length of the evaluation process (in average 9 years) and the lack of risk management assessment for 3 in 4 substances, the need for a better flow of information on substances of concern along the supply chain, and the increasing visibility of indoor air quality as an action area.

ECHA as information hub on chemicals safety

Head of Communications Mrs Johanna Salomaa-Valkamo concluded by outlining ECHA’s Communication Strategy in light of an ever-changing communication landscape. She stressed that ECHA aims at rendering itself as a go-to knowledge hub on chemicals safety. ECHA plans to do so by increasing engagement with key stakeholders and becoming more understandable to target audiences. 

At EFA we will continue monitoring ECHA’s work and seize opportunities for improved chemical regulations to better protect people living with allergy and airways diseases. 

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The EFA Team