Europe Reports

REACH is back in the spotlight

By Sean Milmo | February 9, 2006

While the European Parliament and Council of Ministers have agreed upon much of the REACH legislation, several issues still reamain.

Legislation on the European Union's contentious REACH project on the safety of chemicals is likely to be less of a threat to the coatings industry and its suppliers than at first feared.

The two arms of the EU legislature-the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, representing the union's 25 member states-have now completed their deliberations on a large proportion of the REACH legislation.

There are several key issues outstanding, on some of which Parliament and the Council have at the moment sharply different views. These may have to be reconciled in a conciliation procedure, probably later this year or in early 2007, before the legislation is finally approved.

But both have made clear they want a watered-down version of the originally proposed scheme for REACH-the registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals. As a result the scheme for registering up to 30,000 chemicals with an annual output of over one metric ton with data on their safety will be much more acceptable to the coatings sector and its downstream customers.

"Much of the legislation has now been fixed and from our point of view there are so far more plusses than minuses," said Jacques Warnon, technical director at the European Council of the Paint, Printing Ink and Artists' Colors Industry (CEPE).

"The text agreed by the Council of Ministers is better than that backed by the Parliament in the first reading which in turn was better than the original proposals. The legislation is going in the right direction," Warnon added.

A major concern for coatings producers had been that the costs of registering substances could result in some key ingredients being withdrawn from the market. Small- and medium-sized operators (SMEs) feared that registration could be so expensive that they could be driven out of business.

The Parliament and Council have decided to reduce considerably the registration costs by requiring only data related to the level of risk low-volume individual substance poses.

Previously the European Commission, the EU's executive committee, which drew up the original proposals on REACH, had wanted virtually a full hazard profile on each chemical, which would have necessitated the collection of all safety data on a substance regardless of the degree of exposure to it. However, for chemicals with an annual output of one to 10 tons, which tend to constitute a large proportion of coatings ingredients, much less data than originally suggested will now have to be provided.

"The registration procedure has been simplified a lot which will make things much easier for small- and medium-sized companies," said Guido Lena, environmental policy director at the Brussels-based SME employers organization UEAPME, many of whose members are paint producers or are customers of the coatings industry.

"Studies carried out on the Commission's original proposals on the registration of data had shown that registration costs for small businesses could equal as much as 20% of annual turnover," he explained. "We now expect that with the new registration requirements the costs will be lower, although it is not yet clear by how much."

The Parliament and government representatives have also backed the introduction of an arrangement called One Substance One Registration (OSOR), under which producers and importers can come together to submit joint registrations of identical chemicals. In this way the costs of REACH for individual companies could be decreased even further.

Demands by SME organizations that the sharing of data under OSOR be made compulsory have so far been rejected by the legislators. Instead large chemical producers, worried about the possibility of having to disclose confidential information to competitors, will, under certain circumstances, be able to opt-out of OSOR.

CEPE has been supporting the right of companies to opt-out of the OSOR system on the grounds of confidentiality. But on the other hand the coatings producers trade association is opposing a decision by the legislators to allow the withholding of the identity of suppliers of substances at the pre-registration phase of the 11-year REACH procedure.

In order to give users like paint manufacturers time to reformulate their products when suppliers are planning to withdraw substances from the market by not registering them, chemical companies will have to pre-register their products.

"At the moment only the name of the substance will be available to customers at the pre-registration stage, not the name of the supplier or the use of the chemicals," said Warnon. "It is important for coatings producers to be sure that the specific chemicals they currently include in their formulations will continue to be available. But that will only be possible if they know the identity of the supplier and the use for which a chemical is being registered."

With regard to the REACH regulations still to be finalized by the legislators, CEPE's main concern is the position of imported products and the authorization of chemicals that can cause cancer, mutations or reproduction problems or can accumulate in humans and the environment.

Parliament voted for authorization of these chemicals to be given for only five years after which it would have to be renewed. The Council took a more lenient line by deciding that with the exception of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PCT) substances, authorization would be granted in cases where producers could show the chemicals would be adequately controlled. Producers would also have to conduct an analysis of possible safer alternatives.

"Some of these more dangerous substances are important to paint makers," said Warnon. "The Council's position on authorization is better than the Parliament's but we are not happy with either. In this case the best option is the European Commission's original proposal that these chemicals should be authorized if the producers demonstrated risks would be minimalized."

On imports, CEPE wants chemicals in the coatings of finished products to be subject to the REACH scheme. But both the Parliament and the Council agree that only imported chemicals and substances 'intentionally released' from finished products, like fragrances and flavors, will be covered by REACH.

"We think this gives an unfair advantage to importers of finished products," said Warnon. "But we are not optimistic about changing the views of Parliament and the Council on this point."