After over a decade of intense involvement with chemicals, substances, and environmental compliance regulations, we’ve heard, asked, and answered a lot of questions. So far, nothing has prompted the surge of questions that the REACH regulation has generated.
As the November, 2010 REACH deadline approaches, it’s a great time to clear up the top five most commonly asked questions about REACH.
What is the REACH timeline?
What is the goal of REACH and what’s been its impact so far?
REACH is an acronym – it stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals. The big-picture goal of REACH is the safe use of chemicals in our environment. The hope is that, ultimately, because of REACH everyone will have the information they need to use chemicals safely. In the more immediate-future, REACH seeks to limit or prohibit the use of toxic substances in products.
REACH is a landmark piece of legislation with enormous impact.
REACH affects manufacturing and distribution companies that:
- have a supply chain that runs through Europe in any way
- import from, source from, or manufacture in Europe
- sell products in Europe
- plan to sell products in Europe
For instance: occasionally there is a recall or outcry over a significant amount of toxic substances such as cadmium or lead in a product like jewelry or paint. But who’s accountable? We’re not always sure. REACH is specific about who is accountable for which chemicals in a product, supply chain, or processing event. Companies must now concern themselves with what chemicals and substances suppliers use, as well as the ones used or emitted by their customers.
Overall, the idea behind REACH is to streamline and improve the previous legislative framework for chemicals. REACH has driven raw material transparency requirements to an unprecedented level of market and regulatory attention.
In practical terms, this means that manufacturing and distribution companies are now implementing appropriate systems to measure, track and manage chemicals in their products and supply chains. This chemical accounting, as it were, appears to be good news for most with environmental interests, including the public in general. Currently, the best way to manage REACH compliance is with a dedicated relational database and automated supplier communication, usually in the form of auto-dispatched emails that include a link that suppliers click to access their part of the database.
It’s a new, unpaved road. But there’s hope for a smooth ride: the hope is that once REACH settles in and companies have grown accustomed to its demands, then a safer environment will actually be fairly easy to maintain.
What is the difference between an SVHC list and a SIN list, and what other resources are there?
The SVHC list is the list of Substances of Very High Concern. Only the European community could come up with such a tactful term for “highly toxic stuff.” So far, the list is really just candidates – or substances that are likely to officially make the list when it does become final. As of this writing there are 38 substances on the SVHC list; the most recent additions were made in June 2010. The number is likely to increase to 165 identified substances by 2012.
More familiar substances on the list include types of lead, arsenic, and coal tar.
Substances of Very High Concern include substances which are:
- Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or toxic to Reproduction
- Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) or very Persistent and very Bioaccumulative (vPvB) (defined by REACH criteria), and/or
- identified causing probable serious effects to humans or the environment of an equivalent level of concern as those above, e.g. endocrine disrupters
SVHCs have hazardous properties of very high concern. It is essential to regulate them because the effects they can have on humans and the environment are very serious and often irreversible. There is no tonnage threshold for a substance to be subject to authorization. Bear in mind that “tonne” in this case means the European tonne measure, which is slightly larger than the U.S. ton.
The identification of a substance as a Substance of Very High Concern and its inclusion in the Candidate List is the first step of the authorization procedure. ECHA, which stands for the European Chemicals Agency, is the “mission control” of REACH administration. For assistance, they recommend contacting the Helpdesk for the particular EU member state where you are planning to source from or sell into.
Companies may have immediate legal obligations following such inclusion, so it’s best to be prepared for substances that are likely to make the list. Immediate legal obligations are linked to the listed substance on its own, in preparations and articles. The latest SVHC candidate list is online here and here.
If you’re wondering which substances are likely to make the SVHC list in the future, take a look at the SIN list. The SIN list is a list of things manufacturers should avoid.
The SIN list – as the name suggests – is an itemization of substances that “thou shalt not” get involved with. The SIN list is a list of substances that are likely to make it onto the SVHC list. The SIN list came about because the SVHC listed a handful of substances NOT to use – and companies wanted to know if the chosen replacements would turn up banned in the future. The SIN list contains over 350 chemical-substances that should be replaced now. SIN is in fact an acronym for: “Substitute it NOW!”
One tricky aspect of REACH is that its enforcement is different in each member state in the EU. Penalties and fines for lack of REACH compliance in Hungary, for example, are different than the penalties and fines in Poland – in some cases they’re enormously different. So you must figure out which member state is most relevant to your concern.
This issue comes up, for example, if you have REACH questions. If your in-house REACH system hits a snag, the place to start searching for help on REACH would be the REACH helpdesk – but you need to select the one established in the appropriate member state, according to your unique chemical portfolio. These necessary layers of expertise can be frustrating and can derail a product initiative; these convolutions of legalities are why companies turn to software for REACH compliance.
Will there be REACH-like chemical regulation in the U.S.?
Yes, is the short answer. REACH-like chemical regulation is brewing in the U.S. The U.S. has had chemical regulation under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since 1976. However, interpretation and enforcement have been fleeting. The current EPA is working hard to update chemical legislation – see here and here – and the only sensible way to do it is to create a registration, evaluation, and authorization process. Which sounds a lot like an acronym for REACH, doesn’t it? Another parallel initiative is the California Green Chemistry initiative, which has REACH-like requirements and is a close cousin to the EU regulation.
State by state, expect to see more regional laws trying to regulate chemicals in products, production, and waste streams. While the effort is admirable, the result is often a mish-mash of rules, standards, and regulations that makes managing compliance a challenge at best.
Interestingly, chemical companies and their lobbyists tend to be on board with pursuing chemical legislation at the federal level. The reason is simple: manufacturers and chemical companies want one simple set of rules to adhere to. Businesses do not benefit from the current multi-dimensional spider web of regulations, standards, and initiatives coming into play. The closer regulations get to being universal, the easier they are to follow. Problem is, of course, getting everyone to agree on one set of regulation procedures and standards. The major agencies seem challenged to come at the solution from the same point of view.
In the meantime, it’s critical to stay tuned to information streams such as Environmental Leader to keep current as more localized REACH-like regulation rolls out.
How can a company comply with REACH and REACH-like chemical regulation?
Fairly, some criticize REACH and similar initiatives as being prohibitive to industrial growth – and in fact the infancy of these programs does pose a daunting and even tedious, if not impossible, task in terms of untangling disparate pieces of data.
When you have to gather and parse materials-data from suppliers, use-cases from customers, and all the regulatory footholds in a very steep cliff of compliance – it’s onerous, if not impossible. However, modern challenges seem to generate modern solutions: and in this case there is software now available to solve the challenge of REACH Compliance and of Chemical Regulation Compliance in general.
Russell McCann is the Co-founder and CEO of Actio Corporation. He can be reached using the contact form at www.actio.net.