European chemicals agency must ‘redefine remit’ to serve public interest

Environmental lawyers from ClientEarth are calling on the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to redefine its role to better serve the public interest and not just the chemicals industry.

In a public submission, ClientEarth has welcomed the regulator’s overall focus on identifying and controlling harmful substances, but recommended ECHA rethink its role as a service provider supporting industry, given its power and authority to regulate for the public benefit.

The submission comes at an important time for the agency, which was holding a public consultation on a new five-year strategy. The strategy will define how the agency applies its powers.

ClientEarth Law and Policy Advisor, Dr Apolline Roger said:

“We welcome the European Chemicals Agency’s plans to intensify the identification and control of substances of concern and its acceptance of the new chemical landscape, by supporting the creation of a safe circular economy and supporting the EU’s plastic strategy.

“But old habits die hard. The agency still sees its role as a service provider to the chemicals industry, despite this position preventing it from truly fulfilling the role it was created for: to be a guardian for EU REACH regulation and a source for chemical information for all, in the public interest.

“It’s a pivotal moment for the regulator and the direction it decides to go now will have an impact on how chemicals are classified and regulated for the next five years. This will impact the capacity of REACH to become fully effective and the capacity of the EU to achieve a safe circular economy.”

A 2018 evaluation of the REACH regulation on chemicals, called the REACH REFIT, found that industries were not always complying with their legal obligation related to the use of chemicals, showing a lack of enforcement of the regulation.

“The regulator is uniquely placed, in terms of experience and skills, as the EU’s key source of chemical knowledge. It must learn from the REACH review and fully embrace its power and duty to force industry to respect its obligations under chemical law,” Dr Roger said.

ClientEarth’s submission to the public consultation can be found here.

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