EU Chemicals Agency Defends Video On Consumer Rights Over Industry Objections

By Stephen Gardner  

July 11 — The European Chemicals Agency is defending itself against accusations of alarmism over a video made to raise awareness about a consumer right to information on chemicals that was introduced by the European Union's REACH regulation.

The video, issued by ECHA June 30, is intended to highlight a provision in REACH (Regulation No. 1907/2006 on the registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals) under which suppliers of products that contain hazardous substances are obliged to respond within 45 days to any consumer request for information about the use of the substances.

The obligation applies to chemicals that have been labeled “substances of very high concern” under REACH, a designation that currently covers 155 substances.

The video includes the messages that “every product is made of chemicals,” and consumers should make sure they “don't pay the price for any dangerous ones,” and “have the right to ask if the products you buy contain dangerous chemicals.”

Industry Complaint

The video sparked a complaint from United Kingdom industry group the Chemical Business Association (CBA), which represents chemicals manufacturers, formulators and distributors, including companies such as BOC Chemicals, Lanxness and Whyte Chemicals.

In a July 3 letter to ECHA executive director Geert Dancet, the CBA said the video is “alarmist, irresponsible, and fundamentally misrepresents the contribution chemicals make to modern life.”

CBA chief executive officer Peter Newport told Bloomberg BNA July 11 that the video overstated the presence of hazardous chemicals in everyday products, and did not explain that, even where hazardous substances are present, they do not necessarily present a risk to consumers.

“There is no balance,” Newport said. He added that, under REACH, companies that produce articles containing an SVHC are required to submit a notification to ECHA, and that ECHA data shows that notifications have been received for only 34 of the 155 chemicals identified as SVHCs.

On the risk of chemicals to consumers, Newport said that “there are rafts of EU controls on various things that consumers might buy in the supermarket, but there is no mention of that in the video.”

ECHA Says Complaints Limited

ECHA said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA July 11 that it had received two complaints about the video, with other feedback being “positive.”

On the statements made in the video, ECHA said “we have chosen our words carefully,” and “these statements reflect the spirit of Article 33 of REACH which provides consumers with their right to ask” about SVHCs in products.

The video had led to a huge increase in traffic to the consumer section of the ECHA website, giving visitors “the chance to read all the important material on offer there,” ECHA said.

The European Chemical Industry Council, the umbrella organization for EU national industry associations, told Bloomberg BNA July 11 that it had no comment to make on the video.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

The ECHA video, “The Price You Pay,” is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSWIAEDJfSg.