20-Dec-2006 - Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR)

REACH: An opportunity for more consumer protection

The success of the new European chemicals legislation will depend on its practical implementation

On 1 June 2007 new chemicals legislation comes into force in Europe. The draft regulation of the European Commission - known to the public at large as "REACH" - was confirmed by the European Council of Ministers. The chemical industry, the new European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki and the national authorities have 11 years from June to register approximately 30,000 chemicals, to assess the related risks, to facilitate their safe handling and to submit particularly dangerous substances to an approval process. They will all have to make major efforts if they are to meet the ambitious deadline. BfR has been heavily involved in the shaping of REACH over the last few years. "Many of our proposals have been taken over into the Regulation", was one comment by BfR President, Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel on the new legislation. "They will help to strengthen consumer and animal protection". Other demands were not taken into account at all or only to a limited degree. They included the protection of consumers from substances with a relatively small annual production volume as well as contact with one and the same chemical through various application areas and different exposure paths. BfR welcomes the obligation to replace highly dangerous substances with less dangerous ones but views the scale of the exemptions, however, critically.

The new European chemicals legislation adds important new elements to the existing provisions on consumer health protection during the production, transport and use of chemicals. For instance, the right of consumers to information about the harmfulness of substances and products has been considerably extended. Practical implementation will show whether this really succeeds.

For the first time REACH reverses the burden of proof: whereas up to now it was mainly the public authorities that had to prove the safety of chemicals, manufacturers and importers must now identify the dangers from their substances, assess potential risks and stipulate measures to rule out any damage to health and the environment.

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