“Our vision is to achieve a toxic-free environment where chemicals contribute to society while avoiding harm to the planet and the current and future generations,” Florika Fink-Hooijer, European Commission Directorate-General for Environment, stated in her keynote at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) Safer Chemicals Conference on October 6, 2021. Throughout the one-day conference speakers and participants reflected upon the actions taken by ECHA and other stakeholders during the first year of the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (FPF reported) and their plans for the coming year.
Bjorn Hansen, ECHA executive director, said that REACH and CLP could be implemented more efficiently by simplifying the processes for how risks data is collected and assessed “to meet the increased demand of risk management.” The agency has changed some of its processes over the last year to increase efficiency and predictability. Throughout the conference, ECHA employees explained some of the changes. Takeaways from a few are summarized below.
Jonathan Küster described how ECHA has internally begun grouping chemicals “largely on structural similarity” then roughly ranking the groups to decide which chemicals should be prioritized in regulatory assessment (FPF reported). Küster stressed that the groups ECHA creates have no regulatory or official EU meaning at this time. He explained, “for many substances, especially substances of potential concern, there is already a relevant regulatory action ongoing. Often it might not be on a substance itself but on a related substance. So… working on a group allows us to treat those related substances consistently… By addressing these related substances at the same time, we become more predictable, and we also support informed substitution.”
Through the change towards grouping and others ECHA has, according to Küster, “assessed 10x more substances in 2020 than in any of the previous years” and “last year alone we found around 300 substances that would be potential risk management candidates if the hazards are confirmed.”
When discussing the SCIP database, Kevin Pollard noted that “SCIP is a first milestone in the EU circular economy action plan” (FPF reported here and here). Making the data on substances of concern in consumer products publicly available “has not been without challenges to the companies.” Pollard recognized that companies were given relatively short notice to share all the relevant information with ECHA but this “was on the good basis that companies were expected to be better prepared due to [a legislated] obligation to communicate the same information down the supply chain. However, we recognize… that this obligation has not been optimally complied with.” Even with this limitation, the database was released on time with millions of consumer product information entries available for retailers, consumers, and civil society organizations to use.
In a section discussing nanomaterials, Jenny Holmqvist raised similar concerns about the information being made available to ECHA. As of September 1, 2021, ECHA has received registrations covering 130 “nanoforms,” but she said, “this is fewer than anticipated. Based on data from other regulations and national inventories we estimated that around 300 substances exist as nanoforms on the EU market.” According to Abdelqader Sumrein, 25% of consumers are concerned about nanomaterials, particularly when it comes to medicines, food, and cosmetics but “the majority of respondents in the survey said they would be willing to pay more [1 to 20 % more], for a product that is guaranteed to be safer,” nanomaterial or otherwise.
Directorate General Fink-Hoojer said in her opening keynote, “what we definitely see is that REACH/CLP can be improved in their efficiency internally but the interlinkages with other legislation definitely are not working the way that we had hoped for when we started out on the REACH and CLP journey. And definitely not in the best interest of Europe.” Throughout the conference, the speakers mentioned shortcomings in chemical regulatory projects but also the improvements they observed since adopting the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. And they reminded listeners that work is ongoing to improve chemical safety further.
ECHA scientists, according to Küster, are currently “working on a publication of the assessments of regulatory needs… with the immediate action and foreseen regulatory needs for all substances in a group.” The agency hopes to start publishing the reports by the end of 2021.
The Food Packaging Forum ran a webinar series in spring 2021 on the challenges and opportunities for food contact materials within the EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (FPF reported).
ECHA (October 6, 2021). “Safer Chemicals Conference 2021.”