REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) is a regulation of the European Union, adopted in December 2006 and entered into force June 2007, to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.
It provides a new regulatory framework for the collection of information on the properties of chemicals on the European market, and also for future restrictions on their use. A new Chemicals Agency, based in Finland, will act as the central point in the REACH system: it will run the databases necessary to operate the system.
In principle, REACH applies to all chemical substances; not only those used in industrial processes but also in our day-to-day lives, for example in cleaning products, paints as well as in articles such as clothes, furniture and electrical appliances. Therefore, the regulation has an impact on most companies across the EU.
The goal of REACH is to:
- Provide information on chemical substances
- Assess and manage the risks (or lack thereof) of chemical substances
- Ensure a high level of protection to human health or the environment.
REACH places the burden of proof on companies - those manufacturing and importing to ensure the responsible supply and use of substances. The REACH framework includes several steps before final risk assessment decisions are made.
To comply with the regulation, companies must identify and manage the risks linked to the substances they manufacture and market in the EU. As part of their registration, manufacturers and importers must define the uses in their supply chain which they can support, and detail the specific conditions of use which allow for safe handling. For hazardous substances which are manufactured or imported at 10 tonnes or more per year, the manufacturer or importer must extend their safety data sheet, using “exposure scenarios” setting out the appropriate operational conditions and risk management measures to be employed.
They have to demonstrate to ECHA how the substance can be safely used, and they must communicate the risk management measures to the users.
The Member States or ECHA (at the request of the Commission) initiate the identification of substances of very high concern and restrictions of it if they are deemed of high concern.
One of the major elements of the REACH regulation is the requirement to communicate information on chemicals up and down the supply chain. This ensures that manufacturers, importers, and also their customers are aware of information relating to health and safety of the products supplied. For many retailers the obligation to provide information about substances in their products within 45 days of receipt of a request from a consumer is particularly challenging. Having detailed information on the substances present in their products will allow retailers to work with the manufacturing base to substitute or remove potentially harmful substances from products. The list of harmful substances is continuously growing and requires organizations to constantly monitor any announcements and additions to the REACH scope.