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Some evaluative comments on REACH so far

February 19th, 2013

By early 2013, thousands of registrations of existing substances of high tonnage or priority have been submitted for REACH registration. Chemicals of lower tonnage bands have also been processed. REACH registration has brought to light significant properties of many substances, and this information has been disseminated by ECHA. Property sections of the dossiers are now available on the ECHA website, further improving read-across and category development.

As well as these positive outcomes of REACH, more negatively the regulators continue to give disproportionate attention to substances of a very low hazard profile. In addition to this, the authorities have been more demanding on registrants than expected regarding test plans. It is a concern to industry and animal welfare groups alike that there is not enough being done to minimise test requirements by robust use of prediction and read-across methods where appropriate. From another angle, it has also been suggested by NGOs in a number of fields that ECHA is too secretive about its interactions with the industry.

Instances of non-compliance have led to the authorities taking enforcement action. This perhaps demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, REACH will not be soft towards offenders. However, finding offenders is not so easy!

There were numerous doubts regarding ‘REACH-IT’ due to the numbers of registrants and frequent updates to IUCLID; however, despite these difficulties, the system has not failed. The stress on the industry being forced to meet unrealistic time scales with limited resource capacity has been high, made more difficult by changing guidance. For industry, there is far more to REACH compliance than simply getting the data organised. There are business strategy issues for the registrants’ own purposes, relations with co-registrants who are competitors, and the need to interact well in the supply chain.

Overlaps with other legislation have resulted in some confusion for registrants. This may be reduced by increased experience and more interaction between registrants and regulators.
So far REACH has been beneficial to the protection of the environment and human health. It has cost registrants a very large sum of money, although for high tonnage substances probably not so much as to damage business. For the 2018 call-in, that may be less clear.

The next wave of registrations for 2018 will be a significant challenge for the many companies who have not experienced REACH as registrants. REACH will not end with the registration of the phase-in substances. If the regulators take on board the lessons learnt thus far, then the next ten years of dossier production, test planning and completion, and ultimate achieving of a new regulatory ‘steady state’, will be of benefit to both the chemical industry and wider society.