Helsinki Chemicals Forum Celebrates 10 Year Milestone for ECHA’s REACH Regulation

Rafael-Cayuela-Explains-Dows-Chemicals-Management-Goals-at-HCF2017Chemicals safety regulation continues to evolve and drive greater chemicals exposure transparency

Held from 8-9 June in Helsinki, Finland, the annual Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) delved into a range of topics surrounding chemicals regulation, ranging from chemicals management to sustainable development. While the focus is on European regulations, an international collection of speakers from regulatory bodies, industry associations and NGOs offered insights and information relevant to chemicals regulations in their domains.

HCF was originally created as a forum for the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to disseminate information about the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation that was introduced in 2007. Driven by growing concerns over chemicals in substances and their effect on the environment and human health, the regulation establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on chemical substance hazards and risks. As always, deadlines loom for many aspects of the standard and were thus the topic of many panels.

2017 panels included the impact of chemicals legislation over the past decade; whether there is a business case for sustainable development goals; post-2020 global chemicals supply chains; new approaches to speed up chemical assessments; and, control of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs).

This year, speakers from the United States played a more active role than in the past. Former Assistant Administrator, Chemicals Bureau, EPA, Jim Jones participated as did Rafael Cayuela, Chief Economist for DOW; Dr. Russell Thomas the Director of National Center for Computational Technology at the EPA; and, Kevin Mulvaney, Senior Director of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Cayuela provided an interesting perspective for the more than 40 nationalities that attended the forum. He focused on chemicals management as a component of corporate and strategy development, and said that he believes the world is poised for disruption and that “we’re on the verge of the fourth Industrial Revolution” driven by a mass transformations going on in society and that a technological convergence will occur. Given this, he expects Dow and other major industry organizations to move forward using innovation and integration to prosper in the corporate environment.

Certainly many of ECHA’s goals are being achieved, from the development of substance information on more than 15,000 different chemicals to the recently deployed Global Harmonization System (GHS) that standardizes hazardous materials classification and labeling worldwide.   ECHA Executive Director Geert Dancet cautioned however that there is still a long way to go; that many of the dossiers are incomplete and that ECHA is striving to make it easier for industry to complete those dossiers so that substance attributes are better understood. Even so, Dancet pointed out that REACH has broken new ground in chemicals management and offered other countries a means to better understand how to limit chemical exposures.

One key goal of the regulation is to minimize chemicals’ adverse effects by driving safer usage by 2020. Prior to REACH the responsibility for doing this was with the regulators. Now, the burden of proof is with the manufacturers to prove exposure levels and how they ensure safe usage. This is a massive shift; now more than 11,500 organizations have complied with REACH. Interestingly, consumers are driving some of this compliance through boycotts of suspect products, such as toys containing lead. In response, retailers such as Walmart have told suppliers not to use certain chemicals in their products and opting not to sell products that do. This social support continues to support ECHA goals for greater chemicals transparency throughout the supply chain.

HCF 2018 will be held from 14-15 June 2018 at the Messukeskus Helsinki Convention Centre in Helsinki, Finland. Currently the 2018 program will provide panels on nanomaterials, micro-plastics in the environment, endocrine disruptors, and capacity building beyond 2020. For more information, visit

Posted by Helen Gillespie

A business case for sustainability

Matias LöyttyniemiA panel discussion on the business of sustainability was held at the Helsinki Chemicals Forum, June 8-9 in Helsinki, Finland. The panel, comprised of experts from around the world, discussed what efforts are underway in their countries to support sustainability relating to the use of chemicals.

Ricardo Barra, Dean with the University of Conception, in Chile, provided a snapshot of the situation in his country. The environment there is changing rapidly, at the same time poverty is decreasing rapidly. Emerging issues relating to sustainability include electronic waste, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), plastics in the environment, open burning of waste, and nanomaterials, to name a few. Chemical and waste production has been growing rapidly in Chile, outstripping the government’s ability to register the chemicals.

Qian Cheng, Deputy Head of Greenpeace East Asia in China, presented the results of tests that Greenpeace conducted near an industrial park in China, which showed the magnitude of the chemical pollution problem in China. In the study, they found a large number of hazardous chemicals (224 in all), of which 26% were subject to permit. The scale of chemical industrial production in the country is huge. For example, 18,208 of 25,000 chemical enterprises are registered to produce hazardous chemicals. Of 45,643 chemical substances registered in China, only 2,828 are being monitored. Therefore, a high proportion of chemical releases cannot be readily identified in environmental samples. And further, it makes it extremely difficult to assess the precise health and safety impact of these substances.

Timo Unger, Manager of Environmental Affairrs with Hyundai Europe, discussed how European manufacturers have reduced the environmental impact of car production over the past decade. He also outlined the challenges manufacturers face as downstream users trying to develop substitutions for hazardous substances, which can take from 3-5 years between development and testing. A project his company has started, called Global Regulatory Monitoring Project, will provide a global overview of all regulatory information. However, he commented that it would be beneficial if international organizations, such as the OECD or WTO, UN Environment or even ECHA, would assist in such projects.

Finally, Hartvig Wendt, Executive Director, Head Policy Centre Sustainability with CEFIC in Belgium, pointed to Europe’s declining importance in the global chemicals industry, and asked if after 10 years of REACH, a purely regulating scheme is the best path for the future. He summed up by pointing to a potential for Europe to put more emphasis on innovation, possibly through an incentive scheme rather than a regulatory scheme, as a means of achieving the goal of chemical safety.

Posted by Leslie Burt

Revolutionary Chemical Regulations Celebrate Milestone


Speakers from the chemical industry, governments and organizations shared minds and viewpoints at the Helsinki Chemicals Forum.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the REACH regulations, keynote speakers and panelists at the recent Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) examined what the chemicals legislation has accomplished so far.

The REACH regulations have two main goals. The overriding aim is to protect human health and the environment by identifying chemical substances and regulating them through a four-part process of registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction. The second goal is to spur innovation and competitiveness in the European Union’s chemicals industry.

So far, over 11,500 companies have complied with the legislation with over 60,000 registrations.

When it was enacted, “the REACH regulation was revolutionary in worldwide chemicals policy,” said Geert Dancet, ECHA’s Executive Director, in a keynote address at HCF. “Before REACH, the responsibility was with the regulators to prove that a substance was dangerous – a situation that resulted in approximately 140 existing substances being regulated over 14 years.

“After REACH, the burden of proof is now with the companies who make chemicals,” he added. “They have to register their chemicals, documenting their hazards, the likely levels of exposure and the purposes for which they are used. And companies also need to demonstrate how they can be used safely.

“The evidence shows that it has not been easy, but it is being achieved.”

Challenges are still ahead. Bjorn Hansen, unit head with the European Commission, noted that many dossiers are still not compliant, and testing has proved to be very difficult due to animal protection provisions in REACH. Alternative test methods are being developed, but have taken much longer than originally anticipated. And because of the incomplete dossiers, few substances of very high concern have as yet been identified.

Jan Wijmenga, with The Netherlands government’s ministry of infrastructure and environment, said that although more focus is needed on new substances such as nanomaterials, REACH has been successful so far in making more data available on substances. Looking down the road, he said REACH needs to be connected with other legislation, such as that related to occupational health and safety, waste and water, in order to support the development of the circular economy.

Andrea Paetz, Director of Regulatory Policy with Bayer AG, says that REACH has addressed many of the weaknesses of previous legislation, although its switch in burden of proof was very new to the chemical industry. So far, from the industry perspective, under REACH, data collection is more systematic and the fact that the regulations apply uniformly throughout the EU is very positive. Challenges for industry, particularly SMEs, include the amount of work in collecting data, making updates, and improving dossiers.

Environment Canada’s Jake Sanderson, provided an interesting perspective on the impact of REACH on government policy outside the EU. He said that in 2006, Canada’s existing hazardous chemicals program had reviewed a total of 69 substances over 10 years – a very slow process. Staff looked at REACH as it was being introduced, and watched how it was received by industry in Europe. In addition, they also considered the legislation across the border in the United States. Readiness and political will came together, and Canada’s new Chemicals Management Plan was launched in December 2006. Sanderson said that key priority areas included having a government-wide approach, targeting chemicals of higher concern, having transparent, predictable timetables, integrating research and monitoring programs to align with the priorities, looking at international collaborations, and enhanced engagement with various groups through the supply chain. As a result, 2,800 assessments were completed in 10 years, 370 substances were found to be harmful and 80 risk management plans were created. Next steps, beyond 2020, include more cross-cutting issues, such as pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Looking down the road beyond REACH’s first 10 years, the panel members agreed that it would be ideal to be able to share information internationally by using existing facilities and tools that have already been developed.

Posted by Leslie Burt

EPA Limps Ahead with TSCA Notices

Despite the continuing debate about which chemicals are toxic and which aren’t, the EPA is issuing new chemical notices. Two such notices were recently issued in the Federal Register determining that 28 new chemical notifications are “not likely to present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment (82 Fed Reg. 19044 and 19046). Yet some 700-800 pre-manufacture notices (PMN) are generated annually; those 28 substances represent a drop in the bucket. It’s good that the EPA is managing to get some scientific results finalized, not so good that they appear to be avoiding PMNs that might require restrictions.

This snail’s pace is not really the EPA’s fault. President Trump’s election and subsequent dramatic budget cuts to EPA programs have sown confusion throughout the agency.

The Chemical Safety Act spent years being argued and revised before finally being signed into law in June 2016. It was designed to replace the existing and woefully out-of-date Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with contemporary science, new safety standards, increased chemical transparency and consistent funding to drive a cleaner, safer environment. Yet TSCA is virtually on hold, frozen in a mire of budget controversy.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is on the verge of elimination, not because it is not valuable, but because it points out poor industry risk management activities that result in accidents and death. President Trump wants to sweep the CSB and its findings under the rug.

The EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, which assesses the risks of toxic chemicals, is also targeted for elimination. In an IRIS assessment, the agency provides expert scientific judgments on how much exposure to a particular chemical is safe. EPA regulators in the U.S. and abroad use these numbers to establish cleanup levels for pollution in air, water and soil. In the U.S., IRIS values affect the affordability and degree of cleanups as well as a polluter’s financial liability. But it too is on the chopping block.

The list goes on, slashing program after program, removing bans on toxic substances (such as lead in bullets), removing corporate accountability, removing scientific scrutiny. President Trump’s dislike (and lack of understanding) of science and the regulatory environment appears to be the motivation for the budget reductions. But if he thinks that reducing regulatory oversight is going to be good for U.S. business, he’s wrong.

As the world becomes a circular interconnected marketplace, the challenge of addressing global concerns has gained urgency, propelling standards such as the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) that ensure understanding and consistency worldwide. U.S. regulations are intimately tied into this global regulatory environment. Rolling back regulations will damage U.S. opportunities overseas. Products containing toxic materials will not be allowed into countries that have moved forward with their environmental laws. The European Chemical Agency’s (ECHA) REACH regulation, for instance, requires importers to provide comprehensive substance identification, encourages the use of safe chemical alternatives, and restricts the import of toxic Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC). Lead is on the list, which means that those lead bullets will not be allowed for sale in the European Union (EU). Other countries around the world are developing similar regulations and restrictions. Where’s the business benefit? There isn’t one for going backward, only forward. And this is not the direction the EPA appears to be going.

Approving substances such as those in the recent PMN notices is just one small part of the EPA’s responsibilities. The agency should be restricting toxic substances, such as lead, not removing restrictions that have the potential to make the entire U.S. a Superfund environment.

Published by Helen Gillespie