Chemicals 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 http://www.helsinkicf.eu.
Posted by Helen Gillespie