In an article published on September 11, 2020, news provider ENDS Europe presents an interview with Bjorn Hansen, director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), focusing on a range of ongoing initiatives within the agency and its response to recent criticisms from stakeholders.

Looking towards improving the efficiency of regulating chemicals in the EU, Hansen acknowledged a challenge in sharing information. With multiple independent government agencies in the EU involved in assessing chemicals, in addition to various ad-hoc committees, there are separate channels of information and different sets of assessments often being done on the same substances. “You have 20 different mechanisms for getting scientific advice on the same chemical under all these different pieces of legislation,” Hansen said. To address this, he noted that it’s necessary for ECHA “to make sure that all the data that is available on all chemicals is actually available to everybody.”

In regards to criticism ECHA has received over the past few years regarding incomplete registration dossiers (FPF reported), Hansen commented that “NGOs, of course, use more dramatic words than I would use. But I would agree with a statement along the lines of ‘there are a lot of chemicals out there whose safety has not yet been demonstrated.’” Calls from stakeholders have been for ECHA to more strictly enforce the removal from the market of chemicals with incomplete dossiers, thereby following the original REACH principle of ‘no data, no market.’ Industry has responded by initiating their own commitments and discussions with ECHA to update incomplete registrations (FPF reported). ECHA has itself also committed to reviewing all dossiers by 2027 to place them into one of three pools to identify which are incomplete or need additional risk management (FPF reported). Hansen explained that enforcing this ‘no data, no market’ principle in such a strict way would require a full review of all dossiers and significantly raise the program’s costs. “The question is where do we get most safety for the money,” he said.

In response to criticism that many substances of very high concern have not yet been appropriately recognized or restricted, for example considering the SIN List, Hansen clarified that this is out of ECHA’s control. “There are areas where you can blame us, or we have a resource issue, but not here,” he said. “It is the [European] commission that puts substances on the authorization list, based on a proposal from us. Up until now they have only put about half the substances that we’ve proposed onto the list.” Hansen goes on in the interview to defend the agency’s recent adjustments to a proposed restriction on microplastics (FPF reported) and to voice his understanding for the restriction of groups of chemicals.

With the release of the EU chemicals strategy planned within the coming weeks, Hansen said that ECHA is waiting to see what it brings. “Formally, we are simply a rule taker,” he explained. “However, we are a public agency serving the citizen and we need to be ready when rules are given to us to take. So in that context we must scan the horizon and transparently try to be ready.”

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Robert Hodgson (September 11, 2020). “Interview: ‘There are a lot of chemicals out there whose safety has not yet been demonstrated,’ says ECHA’s Bjorn Hansen.” ENDS Europe (pdf)