ECHA Report Reveals Profound Impact on Authorisation Decisions

According to ECHA’s report the requirements for authorisation have introduced stricter controls of use and have therefore reduced risks from harmful chemicals to workers and the population at large. They have often led to early substitution to safer alternatives. Where applicants made a convincing case that substitution was not possible the recommended authorisations permit them to continue using substances of very high concern and to avoid substantial costs to society. 

echa_789In a release issued on 18 September 2017, ECHA stated that a recent report confirms that the authorisation system has entailed costs to applicants and regulatory authorities, but the benefits outweigh the remaining risks. The report is based on ECHA’s analysis of the first 100 applications for authorisation submitted and evaluated by the end of 2016.

According to the report, the authorisation requirements as well as the reputational issues of continued use of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) have encouraged companies to substitute hazardous substances with safer alternatives as witnessed by the non-receipt of applications for seven substances on the Authorisation list.

One of ECHA’s goals is to substitute substances on the REACH Authorisation List with cleaner, safer alternatives; this is taking place. ECHA did not receive applications for seven substances and several applications contained planned substitution activities.

ECHA stated that three findings stand out:

  • Whilst the remaining risks associated with the continued use of SVHCs are important, the risk reductions brought about by the authorisation system have reduced the exposure to harmful chemicals of workers and the population at large. Thereby, the authorisation system has helped to lower the burden of occupational and other diseases in the EU.
  • The aggregate benefit of authorisations (i.e. the costs that applicants, their clients and society as a whole would have to bear if the authorisations had not been granted) were estimated to outweigh the remaining monetised risks to human health and the environment by on average a factor of 15 to 1. This ratio varied a lot from one application to another.
  • While ECHA’s scientific committees recommended to the European Commission that all the authorisations be granted, they suggested additional conditions and/or monitoring requirements in two-thirds of the uses. Furthermore, they recommended that the review periods be – on average – 2.5 years shorter than proposed by the applicants. Thus, the scientific scrutiny of the applications manifests itself in the opinion-making process.

For details, visit Report: Socio-economic impacts of REACH authorisations 

Houston Chemical Plant Explosions Caused by Natural Disasters Underscore Weak Chemical Safety Measures

Hurricane Harvey caused devastating destruction to the Texas coast, from homes to infrastructure to businesses. Unfortunately, because the region is the site of many manufacturing plants, the impact is having far-reaching affect. The explosions at the flooded Crosby, TX, Arkema chemical plant which manufactures organic peroxides is a case in point.

Fires started when the area was flooded and the backup generators failed, eliminating the refrigeration required to keep the chemicals from degrading and catching fire. A buffer zone around the plant was established, employees were sent home and some 5,000 people living nearby were warned to evacuate. Plumes of toxic black smoke shrouded the area as more than two tons of material exploded.

Despite this, the company was slow to release a list of the chemical inventory to authorities and refused to reveal where those substances were stored. Based on the plant’s history this is not surprising: records show that state and federal regulators have cited Arkema for numerous safety and environmental violations at the Crosby plant for more than a decade, with eight “serious” safety violations in the last year alone. Yet the violations continue.

In the end, Arkema performed a controlled burn of six trailers containing the organic peroxide in order to allow workers to enter the facility and begin the cleanup process.

All chemical facilities are required by National Fire Code Regulations to provide a list of chemicals on-site and their locations to local fire departments annually. Emergency responders need to know how to respond effectively and safely to emergencies just such as this. Yet Arkema continued to conceal these facts even with the media spotlight on their reluctance to do so. Now the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) – which was almost dissolved and is still on shaky budgetary ground – has begun an investigation. But will their findings and the resulting fines be just a slap on the wrist for Arkema and will the violations continue? “Chemical safety” seems to be an oxymoron for so many chemical manufacturers.

For an in-depth look at the incident, take a look at Attorney David Halperin’s article in the Huffington Post.

Lawsuits Against Trump Policies Mark First Year of his Presidency

Almost since the start of President Trump’s time in office, lawsuits have been filed against the policies he is implementing, seeking to cancel or delay Trump’s efforts. In the environmental regulations realm, environmentalists have filed lawsuits that challenge the changes to the recently revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

When pressure from industry groups led EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to delay the effective date of the final TSCA rule until February 2019, eleven state attorneys general threatened to file suit to block the delay.

Now that TSCA is back on track, environmental groups are addressing aspects of TSCA implementation, specifically how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will evaluate chemicals. TSCA requires chemicals to be categorized according to their risk factors before new products can be introduced into the market.

Led by Earthjustice, several environmental groups have filed lawsuits addressing: (1) the methodology EPA will use to set the ground rules for how it will prioritize chemicals for safety review, and (2) exactly how it will evaluate those chemicals.

According to EarthJustice, “After Congress took bipartisan action to make desperately needed updates to our chemical safety laws, the Trump Administration has turned back the clock, leaving families and workers at risk,” said Eve Gartner, an attorney at EarthJustice. “The EPA’s newly adopted rules—overseen by a former high-level chemical industry official with head-spinning conflicts of interest—will leave children, communities and workers vulnerable to dangerous chemicals. This lawsuit is about one thing: holding the Trump EPA to the letter of the law and ensuring it fulfills its mandate to protect the public.”

In a release discussing their position, EarthJustice provides comments from numerous other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Environmental Working Group, Environmental Health Strategy Center, and others.

In 2016, Congress amended the chemical law, TSCA, for the first time in 40 years. It now requires EPA to conduct comprehensive risk evaluations of chemicals without regard to cost. But Earthjustice said that the Trump administration has “dramatically weakened” the rules and continues to lead efforts to ensure that the rule is not further diluted.

TSCA Inventory Reset Rule Published; 180-day Reporting Period Begins

On August 11, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the final TSCA inventory reset rule in the Federal Register, launching the 180-day reporting period for chemical manufacturers to submit chemical substance data under certain procedures by February 7, 2018; chemical processors have a deadline of October 5, 2018.

The report requires chemical facilities to provide information about the chemicals they have produced during the past decade. An estimated 1,600 chemical manufacturers and importers and another 100 chemical processors, which make paints, waxes, cleaning and other chemical-intensive products, are expected to file reports.

For a copy of the EPA’s final rule, 40 CFR Part 710, visit