European chemicals agency improves chemical use transparency but gaps remain

Europe’s chemicals agency has improved its policy on the publication of information it receives from businesses that use ‘substances of very high concern’ (SVHC).

The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) receives requests for authorisations to use such substances from a company asking for itself, for its ‘downstream users’ or for both. Downstream users are any companies or individuals who use chemicals in their operations, but chemicals may not be necessarily their main business, such as users of paints, adhesives and cleaning agents.

When business operating ‘downstream’ are covered by such authorisations, they have to inform ECHA which substance they use, how and why. Until now, the agency did not systematically publish that information and it was not clear what type of information downstream users had to send.

In response to requests from NGOs including ClientEarth, the agency has agreed to change its publication policy and make more information public – including the quantity of the substance used and the number of staff potentially in contact with the substance – through a data register.

ClientEarth law and policy advisor Dr Apolline Roger said: “Firstly, it’s important to congratulate ECHA for listening to calls for greater transparency, and then incorporating a more ambitious approach in their policy. We particularly welcome the systematic publication of the quantities used by downstream users, by way of a band, as well as the aggregated number of staff involved in those downstream operations.

“We support the agency’s assessment. It acknowledges that the increased competitive pressure that greater transparency puts on the suppliers of ‘substances of very high concern’ is a positive outcome, as it promotes substitution of such substances with safer alternatives.

“The supply chains of substances of very high concern should not be unduly protected from the healthy competition of safer alternatives, so it’s great that this policy supports that.

“However it’s regrettable that the agency has not followed this logic fully. To ensure complete transparency, ECHA should systematically publish the name and location of downstream users, even where there are less than two authorised holders or authorised users – which will not be the case today if the user or the authorisation holder opposes the publication.

“We would have also liked systematic publishing of detailed information on the use of the SVHC, and, importantly, the publication of the information downstream users must send to the agency in application of the authorisation – which often concerns exposure and the availability of alternatives.

“We are calling on ECHA to take one more step towards full transparency, which will empower the public, experts and business who provide alternatives to dangerous chemicals with crucial information on the use of dangerous substances and promote investment in safer solutions.”

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