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Policy

Chemical Substitutions Tussle

European Chemicals Agency rejects criticism it is not doing enough to control harmful substances

by Alex Scott
February 16, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 7

Environmental groups and some companies are complaining that Europe’s system for phasing out hazardous chemicals isn’t doing the job.

Substances of very high concern (SVHCs) can be used—or authorized—in certain applications under Europe’s chemicals regulation, known as the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals, or REACH. But environmental groups and firms such as AkzoNobel and Ikea argue that these exceptions are too readily made and that more substitutions of SVHCs should be taking place.

For example, AkzoNobel phased out lead chromate in its industrial paints in 2011, but “we are surprised that the EU looks set to grant an authorization for the continued use of lead chromate in these paints for at least 12 more years under REACH,” says Julian Hunter, AkzoNobel’s senior manager for product stewardship and regulatory affairs.

To date, 31 SVHCs have been identified and are subject to restricted use. Of the 31, manufacturers have chosen not to apply for authorization to use seven substances, indicating that these seven are being substituted.

The European Environmental Bureau, an advocacy group, says this number would be higher if a socioeconomic analysis was not part of the authorization process. The group says REACH too readily accepts the cost of removing an SVHC as a reason for continued use.

The European Chemicals Agency, which is responsible for implementing chemical regulations across Europe, defends the robustness of its system. The authorization process “now works well and is fair and transparent,” and it has had a “tangible impact” on the substitution of SVHCs, claims Geert Dancet, ECHA’s executive director.

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