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ClientEarth Communications

11th June 2018


European Commission’s delayed chemicals decisions endangering human health and environment

Human health and the environment are being put at risk because of excessive delays in chemical regulatory decisions by the European Commission, new research reveals.

In many cases companies are free to use chemicals, some known to be dangerous – in some cases for up to four years – while decisions to restrict or authorise their use have been sitting on Commission desks, a study from ClientEarth shows.

The research by ClientEarth lawyers reveals that Commission decisions are delayed unreasonably in a whopping 96% of all authorisation cases and in 89% of all restriction cases.*

Those highlighted to be most at risk are workers, as the majority of decisions relate to chemicals in production and manufacturing processes. Some cases may also relate to chemicals in everyday products, as well as those affecting the environment.

ClientEarth lawyer Alice Bernard said: “Once the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) concludes that risks from specific chemicals are not acceptable, the Commission has a duty to act quickly. Some decisions have been sitting on the desk of the Commission for more than three years now, for no apparent reason.

“Every day lost in this inaction means more exposure to harmful chemicals, increasing the likelihood of notably cancer, impairment of fertility, as well as long term catastrophic damage to our ecosystems. The adoption of decisions protecting worker and consumer health from dangerous chemicals needs to be considerably sped up.”

Under the current REACH regulatory system, (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals) the agency’s scientific committees are in charge of assessing the risks of chemicals. On the basis of these assessments and with support of experts from member states, the Commission then decides whether companies should be granted authorisations to use substances known to be of “very high concern”. The Commission also decides whether to restrict the use of chemicals where risks are not adequately controlled.

While the Commission’s decisions are pending, companies are free to use the chemicals in question, despite the agency’s scientific findings.

One notable example is the case of DEHP – a plastic-softening chemical found to be a hormone-disrupting substance toxic for human reproduction – that is used to make plastic PVC items. The chemical agency’s scientific committees concluded in 2014 and 2015 that the companies requesting authorisation for DEHP were using it without adequately controlling its risks for workers exposed during its production.

As of June 2018, the Commission has still not yet adopted a final decision on these cases, meaning companies remain free to continue using the chemical as they see fit.

The Commission has not stated the reason why these unreasonable delays have occurred. It has also not explained why certain cases have benefited from special treatment by being decided in less than five months.

ClientEarth lawyer Apolline Roger added: “It is strikingly apparent that the cases where the Commission acted most quickly were the cases where the companies could not legally use the chemicals while waiting for the Commissions’ decision.

“It is particularly worrying to see that the Commission prioritises business interests, but not the protection of human health and the environment when deciding which cases are urgent.”

ClientEarth has written to the Commission sharing the detailed findings of its study showing a clear trend of unreasonable delay. ClientEarth calls on the Commission to use its power and resources to correct its maladministration and speed up the authorisation and restriction processes under the REACH regulations.

* Delays were calculated by considering applicable procedures and the time already spent by ECHA to provide its in-depth scientific assessment.