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By Stephen Gardner
BRUSSELS—A lack of awareness of REACH requirements among importers could help to explain the apparently low level of notifications of products sold in the European Union that contain hazardous substances, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) said March 6.
The total of 203 notifications received between April and December 2011 did “appear to be low,” ECHA told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail. But because of various exemptions from REACH, it was “difficult to estimate how many of those using/importing a substance in articles would have to notify.”
ECHA published information on the 203 notifications March 5. Notification of the presence of some hazardous substances in products, or “articles” in REACH terminology, is required under the REACH law (Regulation No. 1907/2006 on the registration, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals). (See related story.)
The obligation applies to 73 “substances of very high concern” (SVHCs), which have been included on a REACH candidate list for bans.
For 53 of the substances, the deadline to submit notifications to ECHA of the chemicals' presence in products was June 1, 2011.
For substances subsequently added to the SVHC list, notifications must be submitted to ECHA within six months of their inclusion on the list. ECHA added 20 substances to the candidate list in December 2011, meaning notifications related to the use of those substances in articles must be submitted by June 2012.
About 40 percent of the 203 notifications came from producers based in the European Union, while about 60 percent came from importers, ECHA said.
Although notifications from EU producers made up less than half of the total, the proportion was higher than might be expected, ECHA said. In many cases, European Union-based producers would be exempt from the notification obligation because the use of SVHCs in articles already would have been covered in the registration dossier for the substance.
Under REACH, substance registration dossiers must include details of the uses to which the substance is put, and safe-use instructions must be issued to companies using substances in their products.
Because of this, “only a small share of [EU] producers [of articles] would have the obligation to notify, considering that their use of the substance would in most cases already be registered,” ECHA said.
Many importers, however, would not be able to take advantage of the notification exemption.
For example, a European Union-based manufacturer of electronic goods containing an SVHC would in principle already be covered by the uses described in the registration dossier for that substance.
However, a non-EU manufacturer of similar electronic goods, which include hazardous chemicals purchased from a non-EU supplier, would not be covered by the substance registration dossier and would thus have to submit a notification to ECHA.
“Many companies, in particular importers of articles, may yet be unaware of this new obligation and their responsibility to notify,” ECHA said.
In addition, the low level of notifications could be due partly to SVHCs no longer being used in products, or because the use of SVHCs in articles is below the notification thresholds set out in the REACH law, ECHA said.
Vito Buonsante, a lawyer with the advocacy group ClientEarth, said ECHA's release of information about SVHCs in products was in effect “useless” for fulfilling the objective of REACH, which is to provide more information on the presence of dangerous substances to consumers.
Because of the low number of notifications, the data published by ECHA “gives more information on what is not happening,” Buonsante said.
Exemptions in REACH, and a disagreement between EU member states over a threshold for the presence of SVHCs in articles, would make it extremely difficult to enforce the notification obligation, he said.
For example, if a company uses an SVHC in its products in a total volume of less than one metric ton per year, it is exempted from the notification requirement.
Buonsante questioned how easy it would be for an enforcing authority to check this in practice.
Companies also are exempted from the notification requirement if the substance is present in a product below a threshold of 0.1 percent by weight.
But EU countries disagree if this threshold should only apply to the final product, such as a car, or to its integral components, such as individual car seats.
If the threshold applied to components, “we would have the possibility to get many more notifications,” Buonsante said, adding that the dispute over the threshold should be “urgently solved.”
The majority view among EU countries is that the 0.1 percent threshold applies to final products. But Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and Sweden apply the component-level interpretation. (See related story.)
ECHA said authorities in EU member states are responsible for REACH enforcement, but that a forum of EU national authorities, which carries out joint enforcement projects, will discuss in 2013 the possibility of an exercise to enforce the obligations related to notifications of SVHCs in articles.
Information on notifications submitted to ECHA on the use of substances of very high concern in products is available at http://echa.europa.eu/web/guest/information-on-chemicals/candidate-list-substances-in-articles.
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