Sunday, April 5, 2009

European Trade Union Lists 306 "Substances of Very High Concern" - Will this Blacklist Safe Chemicals?


The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), based in Brussels, published a "Trade Union Priority List for Reach Authorisation," featuring a list of 306 chemicals that ETUC says “are of very high concern.” ETUC is calling on European Union (EU) member states to include the list of 306 chemicals on the candidate list of substances for authorization under the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) program.

As I have noted previously, REACH is the new chemical control law in Europe and it requires all manufacturers and importers of chemicals to "register" them within a specific time frame if they want to continue using chemicals that have already been on the market. New chemicals must be registered before going on the market, with registration requiring a substantial dossier compiling all of the health and safety data, as well as exposure scenarios for every intended use of the chemical.

In addition to the registration (the "R" in REACH), there is a requirement for certain "substances of very high concern" (SVHC) to receive authorization for continued use (the "A" in REACH). Authorization requires the manufacture to submit an application that includes all of the usual health and safety data in a dossier, and also a plan for its substitution by substances of lesser concern. Authorization is for a limited time and for specific uses only, and only to allow development of alternatives.

Last fall the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) issued the first of what will be regular lists of "candidate" chemicals, i.e., those substances for which Authorization will be necessary of the manufacturers or importers want to keep the sustance on the market for a while longer (otherwise, they will simply be banned). The first candidate list contained 16 chemicals.

While only ECHA is responsible for issuing the candidate list, other organizations have jumped on the "list" bandwagon in an effort to suggest chemicals they think ECHA should nominate for Authorization. ETUC is particularly concerned about 191 chemicals identified as causing occupational diseases (e.g., acrylamide, bisphenol A, and formaldehyde). Last year a group of European environmental organizations under the collaboration name ChemSoc issued a SIN List (Substitute It Now) of substances they felt were of high concern. In addition, individual Member States of the European Union can suggest chemicals of particular interest to them.

As noted, only ECHA can issue the candidate lists, but with ETUC, ChemSoc and surely others issuing their own lists there is a definite potential for blacklisting. Even the candidate list itself doesn't say the chemicals listed need to be banned or severely restricted, only that they are in need of a much closer look. Some of the candidate list chemicals will eventually be removed as new information is made available by the manufacturers. But having a list of chemicals that someone arbitrarily says are of "very high concern" can be very damaging to busy as downstream users are hesitant to use chemicals that are being targeted. Compare the several hundreds of chemicals on ETOC's list (306) and the SIN list (200) versus only 16 on the first ECHA candidate list and you can see the potential for blacklisting even before there is any formal evaluation of the data.

ETUC says its goal is to contribute to the practical implementation of the authorization phase of REACH. ETUC says it endorses an approach where risks of certain chemicals are controlled and the most hazardous chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives. While all of the chemicals listed by ETUC supposedly meet the REACH criteria for classification as ‘substances of very high concern,’ (i.e., persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic or carcinogenic, mutagenic, or reproductive toxicants), the ETUC list goes further as it "ranks chemicals by reference to their intrinsic toxicological properties and identifies those that cause occupational diseases which are recognised at EU level.”

We'll see how these independent lists affect the market, which could very well substitute away from chemicals that can be safely used and toward chemicals that may actually have a greater impact on human health and the environment.

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