The European Commission has pledged a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to non-compliance under its new chemicals strategy for sustainability, in which it sets a series of measures to combat the issue.
The move, outlined in a communication document, follows earlier calls from member states and NGOs for greater adherence to the rules and increases pressure on an industry that is now facing mandatory deadlines to update REACH dossiers.
The wide-ranging strategy says “stepping up” implementation and enforcement of chemicals legislation is “urgently needed” and makes several commitments to address this.
One action that will have a direct impact on industry is the Commission’s pledge to “strengthen the principles of ‘no data, no market’ and the ‘polluter-pays’ under REACH, in particular by requiring compliance of all registration dossiers and revoking the registration numbers in case of non-compliance”.
In response, Cefic said providing quality data in REACH dossiers is of “utmost priority” for industry and pointed out that it had already begun a major voluntary initiative to improve dossiers, with 190 companies having signed up to date.
Meanwhile, Tatiana Santos, policy manager at NGO the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said the best way to strengthen the ‘no data, no market’ principle “is not to allow any chemical on the market without data to guarantee it can be used safely – ‘no data, no market’ should be interpreted as ‘no proper data, no market’”.
It is crucial, she added, that Echa does not grant a registration number to chemicals “for which it is not 100% clear that all necessary data to assess safety has been provided”. The agency should also check dossiers and revoke registration numbers of non-compliant companies.
“We believe the best way to apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle in this context is to increase registration fees. This would reinforce Echa’s capacity to perform adequate dossier evaluations and support Echa and member state competent authorities to perform substance evaluations when needed.”
In the chemicals strategy, the Commission has pledged to target known areas of high risk of non-compliance, in particular online sales, imported articles, classification and labelling and restrictions.
Less than a month before the strategy’s release, the results of an EU-wide enforcement project found almost a quarter of EU imports to have contravened REACH and CLP rules.
The Commission promised to propose carrying out audits in member states, “where relevant, to ensure compliance and enforcement of chemicals legislation, in particular REACH, and use infringement procedures as necessary”.
The EU executive will also ensure a “harmonised EU-wide response and coordinated exchange of information on enforcement” by strengthening the use of relevant Commission IT platforms.
Cefic welcomed the proposals, adding it is “crucial” they “have ‘teeth’ and are backed by tangible measures” to be taken to prevent non-compliance.
“We strongly believe that no product should enter the EU if it is not compliant with the EU regulations […] policy makers and enforcement authorities must ensure that existing measures are enforced and availability of tools should be assessed.”
Ms Santos said it is important that the Commission develops clear guidance to combat the “general lack of coherence” among member state sanctions for the same infringements.
She also called for recommendations to “truly apply” the zero tolerance approach. “We have seen over decades that the preferred option by the enforcement authorities is ‘soft’ measures, while the levels of compliance have not improved, showing that these … were clearly insufficient to ensure compliance.”
A Commission spokesperson declined to comment directly on the ‘zero tolerance’ approach, but added that the steps “over the coming months are to define more precisely the implementation of the actions” outlined in the strategy.
chemicalwatch.com, 23 October 2020