In this article, Dr. Peter Ruifrok
introduces the European REACH
regulation and looks at its
implications for many common products.
You may soon find that certain building materials which have been around for years will suddenly change their chemical composition and hence their performance characteristics. Think of products containing flame retardants, of PVC flooring containing plasticisers or of carpet tiles containing additives to make them last longer. These changes will be down to REACH.
What is REACH?
Back in 2007 the final and most important part of the European REACH regulation came into force (see www.echa.europa.eu for the full legal text). REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals. This EU law requires each chemical manufactured or imported into the EU above the 1 t/y threshold, to have a registration dossier. This dossier, similar to those for medical drugs, is designed to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment. It is a complex law, the legal text alone is almost 300 pages, with supporting document pages running into the thousands.
Industry must submit these registration dossiers to a central and newly established EU office (called ECHA and located in Helsinki) between December 2010 and June 2018, with the larger volume chemicals demanding more elaborate dossiers and earlier registration dates. In the UK regulation is being enforced by the HSE (www.hse.gov.uk/reach/) and penalties for non-compliance have already been issued.
There are some 140,000 different chemical substances involved. The regulation is not only applicable to stand-alone chemicals or those in compounds, but also to chemicals in consumer products such as printer cartridge ink, or perfume. In addition, the ECHA must be notified of products containing more than 0.1% of substances of ‘very high concern’, even if no release is involved. A product can be anything, from a window frame to a carpet tile. Substances of very high concern can be put on a list by the EU authorities as candidates for authorisation, which means that these chemicals will be withdrawn from the market in the foreseeable future unless industry can make a very good case against it. Currently the list is composed of 30 chemicals and is growing (see http://bit.ly/7JGVD6 )
Impact on the construction industry
A number of environmental pressure groups argue that the ECHA list is too limited and their response has been to draw up their own lists. A good example is the SIN List (“substitute it now”, see www.sinlist.org) in which, amongst others, the WWF and Friends of the Earth have listed over 350 chemicals. This list is proving so influential that big retail organisations such as B&Q have written to suppliers banning the chemicals from products supplied. Well-known flame retardants and plasticisers are both on the EU and the SIN List.
As an un-planned side effect, the very high cost of registration is likely to result in the disappearance of many thousands of relatively benign chemicals from the market between now and 2018.
The consequence for industry of the introduction of REACH will be that a whole range of chemicals that have provided years of service, will simply disappear. This will mean that substitutes will have to be developed if products are to remain on the market. It is quite possible too, that we will see either a rise in the cost of some products, a decrease in quality or both.
Specifiers should interrogate manufacturers to ensure that listed chemicals are not present in their products. They might also ask to be made aware of products that have been subject to REACH regulations and be informed of the nature of any substitutes including data that demonstrates (or otherwise) a continuation of performance quality.
For many in industry, REACH will appear as a draconian and potentially ruinous intervention, but to others, concerned with public health and the environment, it is a long-awaited development that will help boost initiatives and legislation that promote a healthier and more sustainable future.
Notes on the author:
Dr. Peter Ruifrok is a Dutch national who has lived in the UK for many years. He holds a PhD in Chemistry and Pharmacy and has worked for large chemical multinationals such as AKZO (Pharmaceuticals), Avebe (Chemicals for the Paper Industry) and DSM (Fine Chemicals) in a number of technical, commercial and general management roles. Peter has also been a majority shareholder and MD of SME chemical companies in the UK and The Netherlands. He is now a consultant specialising in the REACH regulation and in chemical substitution strategies. He can be reached by email via firstname.lastname@example.org