D-day imminent for European Chemicals Agency

On 1 June, the European Chemicals Bureau (ECB) will hand over its responsibilities to the newly created European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)

For the last 15 years, the ECB, which is one of the seven scientific institutes in the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), has been primarily responsible for assessing and controlling the risks posed by chemical substances.

The ECB’s work has been essential to the scientific and technical preparation of the Commission’s proposals to update the list of dangerous substances for which harmonised classification and labelling have been agreed at Community level, as well as updating the classification criteria.

The official inventory of classification and labelling for hazardous substances with toxicological and eco-toxicological potential currently lists about 3,400 entries, corresponding to around 7,900 substances.

In full operation, the ECB coordinated many activities, such as chairing more than 400 meetings with Member States’ competent authorities and other stakeholders, helping them to reach consensus.

In the last five years, the bureau worked on implementing an online management system, as well as archiving all relevant material for new chemicals regulation, REACH, which entered into force on 1 June 2007. The management system now has 8,400 registered users and has been downloaded around 6,900 times by worldwide users.

Now ECHA, located in Helsinki, Finland, will take offer from the ECB. It will be responsible for managing the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction processes for chemical substances. Its work will thus ensure a benchmark of standards and consistency across the whole of the EU. The ECHA is also responsible for maintaining the standards set out in the REACH regulation.

The central aims of REACH are to improve human health and the environment, while at the same time bolstering the overall competitiveness of the chemicals industry. Another of its aims is to improve communication and risk management in the entire chemical supply chain, and to replace particularly dangerous chemical substances with safer alternatives. These REACH processes are designed to provide additional information on chemicals and to ensure their safe use.

Essentially, REACH replaces about 40 separate pieces of legislation with a streamlined and improved Regulation. Other legislation regulating chemicals not replaced by REACH such as those concerning cosmetics and detergents or legislation regarding related issues on health and safety of workers handling chemicals, product safety, construction products will continue to apply. REACH has been designed not to overlap or conflict with the other chemical legislation.

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