The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is missing a major opportunity to speed up substitution of dangerous chemicals for safer alternatives, by failing to share strategic information with third parties. This is the conclusion of a report on the Agency’s performance since it opened its doors ten years ago.
ClientEarth lawyers found that, while ECHA now disseminates more information and organises it better on its website, it is still falling short of its legal obligations to ensure transparency.
ClientEarth lawyer Apolline Roger said: “Harmful chemicals would be phased out faster if consumers, investors, chemical buyers, providers of safer alternatives and civil society had the information necessary to push for it. The EU institutions would benefit hugely from this help. But to get it, ECHA must meet its legal obligation to disseminate information on chemicals and on how, why, where and by whom they are used.
“In its early years, ECHA had trouble accepting its obligation to publish even basic information on chemicals, like the name of companies manufacturing or importing them in the EU. Ten years after its creation, it has made much progress. Now, it’s time to go to final mile.
“Information that is still kept confidential has the capacity to become a lever for change in the hands of market actors and civil society. While much information is now disseminated on ECHA’s website, by complying with its obligation to share this data, ECHA would push companies to substitute dangerous chemicals for safer alternatives. This would drive innovation and reward compliant companies, as well as protecting people and the planet.”
ClientEarth’s report analyses ECHA’s progress and shortcomings in complying with its transparency obligations. It proposes tailored solutions for each core regulatory activity set by REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of chemicals).
There are particular information gaps surrounding the precise quantities in which chemicals, including those known to be particularly dangerous, are manufactured, sold or used in the EU. This information is essential to make chemicals and their risks ‘visible’ but is not systematically disclosed today. Similarly, the identity and location of companies using harmful substances are not always shared publicly. ECHA also does not always make the function of harmful chemicals public, even though this is key to assess whether these substances have societal benefits or if safer alternative chemicals or technologies exist. ECHA also misses the opportunity to promote compliance and industry best practice by publishing the names of companies violating EU chemical law.
By refusing to disclose this information, ECHA falls short of its obligations set by EU law (REACH, the Aarhus Regulation and the Access to Document Regulation) and international law (the Aarhus Convention), designed to make sure people can hold authorities to account and make informed decisions when environmental pollution is at stake. The Agency has, in the past, waited until legal action forced it to comply with its obligation to disseminate key information to do so.
The chemicals regulator must provide more and better information on chemicals and the companies that manufacture and use them, as required by EU law. It must continue its efforts to become more transparent, and should allow civil society, investors, alternative providers and consumers to meaningfully contribute to the application and enforcement of EU chemicals regulation. This is the best way to support industry while protecting people and the environment.