Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals (REACH) is a new European Union Regulation, EC/2006/1907 of 18 December 2006. REACH addresses the production and use of chemical substances, and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment. Its 849 pages took seven years to pass, and it has been described as the most complex legislation in the Union's history and the most important in 20 years. It is the strictest law to date regulating chemical substances and will impact industries throughout the world. REACH entered into force in June 2007, with a phased implementation over the next decade.
When REACH is fully in force, it will require all companies manufacturing or importing chemical substances into the European Union in quantities of one tonne or more per year to register these substances with a new European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki, Finland. Because REACH applies to some substances that are contained in objects ('articles' in REACH terminology), any company importing goods into Europe could be affected.
Potential registrants (i.e. manufacturers and importers of chemical substances) must 'pre-register' these substances by December 1, 2008, in order to benefit from postponed 'phase in' deadlines. Although 'pre-registering' is not mandatory, it is free and an important step in allowing potential registrants much more time before they have to fully register.
Supply of substances to the European market which have not been registered as required is illegal (known in REACH as 'no data, no market').
REACH also addresses the continued use of chemical 'Substances of Very High Concern' (SVHC) because of their potential negative impacts on human health or the environment. The European Chemicals Agency may need to be notified of the presence of SVHCs in articles, if they are present above certain tonnage and concentration thresholds. Depending on the substance in question and its use, producers and importers may then be obliged to investigate its effects on human health and the environment.
A shortlist of some SVHCs will be subjected to new controls under REACH - this is called 'authorisation'. This shortlist will be created as an annex to the Regulation (Annex XIV), and will be drawn from lists of SVHCs published over the next year. Continued use of Annex XIV substances will have to be justified on a case-by-case basis, and applications for authorisation must include plans to replace use of an Annex XIV substance with a safer alternative (or, if no safer alternative exists, the applicant must work to find one) - known as 'substitution'.
The European Chemicals Agency can deny authorisation, making continued use illegal.
REACH applies to all chemicals imported or produced in the EU, in contrast to the US Toxic Substances Control Act which only applies to chemicals newly coming into use. The European Chemicals Agency will manage the technical, scientific and administrative aspects of the REACH system.
The European Commission supports businesses affected by REACH by handing out - free of charge - a software application (IUCLID), which simplifies capturing, managing and submitting of data on chemical properties and effects.
The European Union is currently developing a separate law to regulate the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, which will implement in Europe the worldwide standards for providing information about chemicals on labels, set out in the United Nations Globally Harmonised System of the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UN GHS). The new European Regulation will complement REACH.
Using potentially toxic substances (such as phthalates or brominated flame retardants) is undesirable and REACH will force the use of certain of these substances to be phased out. Using potentially toxic substances in products other than those ingested by humans (such as electronic devices) may seem to be safe, but there are several ways in which chemicals can enter the human body and the environment. Substances can leave articles during consumer use, for example into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested. Even where they might not do direct harm to humans, they can contaminate the air or water, and can enter the food chain through plants, fish or other animals. According to the European Commission, little safety information exists for 99 percent of the tens of thousands of chemicals placed on the market before 1981. There were 100,106 chemicals in use in the EU in 1981, when the last survey was performed. Of these only 3,000 have been tested and over 800 are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction. These are listed in the Annex 1 of Directive [67/548/EEC]
Continued use of many toxic chemicals is justified because 'at very low levels they are not a concern to health'. However, many of these substances may bioaccumulate in the human body, or chemically react with one another, thus reaching dangerous concentrations.
Animal tests on vertebrates are allowed only once per one substance, and where suitable alternatives can't be used. If a company pays for these tests, it must sell the rights to the results for a "reasonable" price (although this is not defined). There are additional concerns that access to the necessary information may prove very costly for potential registrants needing to purchase this.
On June 8, 2006 the REACH proposal came under criticism from a group of nations including the United States, India and Brazil claiming that the bill would hamper global trade.