Open letter calls on rapid revision of REACH

rapid revision REACH
PFAS in fire-fighting foam can be replaced by other products. Photo: TheJohnus, Pixabay.

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An open letter of more than 20 forward-thinking companies and organisations to the European Commission calls on rapid revision of REACH. The group wants to revise the EU regulation REACH which governs the manufacture and importation of chemical substances as soon as possible to save the environment.

In an open letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in December the group said a timely revision is ‘absolutely necessary for a more efficient regulation, as well as better support for chemical substitution and non-toxic circular economy’.

Quick revision necessary

REACH, an acronym for ‘Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of CHemicals’, has been in force in all EU Member States since 1 June 2007. It also applies in Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Norway. This Regulation has not been revised for almost 20 years even though new chemical substances widely used by the industry, such as many PFAS, are now identified as harmful to the environment and human health.

Safer substitutes

In October 2020 the Commission adopted its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Part of the EU’s zero pollution ambition it aims to better protect citizens and the environment and boost innovation by promoting the use of safer and more sustainable chemicals.

Phasing out harmful chemicals

Signatories to the open letter said they fully supported the aims of the Chemicals Strategy. They include the organisation for the development of sustainable chemicals ChemSec; EurEau, the European federation of national associations of water services; Adidas; IKEA; and other major companies. “Our companies are all working hard to phase out the most harmful chemicals from our products. We also put a lot of effort towards achieving circular and non-toxic business models. We are convinced that our work can inspire and help other companies to do the same, but we need legislation to push these processes further,” the letter states.

PFAS

EurEau policy advisor Rafael Heredero said: “Water operators are particularly concerned about persistent and mobile substances as they can more easily break through our treatment techniques. Top amongst this group are PFAS, of which there are over 5,000. Alternatives are available for many applications, in particular those in consumer products and fire-fighting foams. For others, non-hazardous substitutes are still under development. “We call for a rapid phase-out of all uses of PFAS. A number of them are already covered by REACH restrictions, others will follow soon. The problem is that industry is replacing them by shorter chain PFAS which are even more difficult to remove from the water cycle.”

Speed up the process

In the coming days the European Chemicals Agency is to propose a general REACH restriction covering all non-essential PFAS uses. However, if this results in a legislative proposal from the Commission, it is not likely to happen before 2025. Heredero said: “We are concerned that the final restriction will include many exemptions and lengthy transition periods. This means that our environment will remain PFAS-polluted for decades to come. The REACH revision is expected to speed up and make the restriction procedure of hazardous chemicals more efficient, and that is why we are asking the Commission to deliver an ambitious proposal now.”

Extended Producer Responsibility

EurEau is also asking the Commission for Extended Producer Responsibility to implement the Polluter-Pays Principle as enshrined in the EU Treaty. The Commission is not scheduled to review REACH until the fourth quarter of 2023 though a revision had been announced for 2022.

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