Six months ago, in December 2021, the government released a statement indicating its intention to delay the implementation of the UK REACH regulation for a second time. This delay will allow engagement with industry and other stakeholders to explore opportunities for reducing the need for businesses to replicate existing EU REACH data by placing greater emphasis on understanding the use of chemicals within Great Britain.
Clearly no one wants regulations that are not fit for purpose, but could a lengthy delay prove damaging for the UK chemical industry?
“We’ve been involved with REACH since its inception many years ago,” says Tim Doggett, chief executive of the Chemical Business Association (CBA), which represents UK chemical supply chain companies that include distributors, traders, manufacturers, blenders, logistics specialists and service providers. “We’re well aware of the complexities of the original REACH and what UK REACH would mean. We talk to government month after month and we’ve had significant concerns about the workability of UK REACH throughout, particularly with regard to process duplication. Duplication not only carries financial implications, but moral ones, such as the duplication of animal testing. If the data is already there, the need for replication seems unnecessary.”
Some have construed the delay as the chemical industry seeking to reduce safety regulations, but Doggett is keen to highlight this is far from the case.
“The aim of industry’s push to provide less safety data was simply to avoid paying again,” he says. “This work has already been done, so UK businesses would have to re-do it, with further costs for re-testing and registration. Industry is not after reducing safety or regulation; the chemical sector self-regulates a lot anyway, for example through the Responsible Care programme. I’ve not heard a single voice even hinting about reducing safety, only the opposite. No one is looking for an easy ride, but a workable solution.”
Last year, the CBA and several other chemical industry stakeholders had regular and frequent meetings with Defra and HSE, just below ministerial level. That culminated in the development of two or three different propositions.
“Last summer we also had a meeting with George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,” explains Doggett. “That meeting was of concern. We felt the briefings were not sufficiently thorough and that government was not fully understanding. As a result, we spent several more months lobbying the back corridors of Whitehall, highlighting the detrimental impact of UK REACH to business and our concerns on duplication. George Eustice issued a letter to industry on 6 December 2021.”
The letter was significant in that it stated the government had committed to exploring a new model for transitional registrations. Another significant point was a further deadline extension to allow for ongoing consultation, from 27 October 2023 to 27 October 2025. This follows a prior delay from the original deadline of 28 October 2021.
Along with the statement, a Defra spokesperson said: “Now we have left the EU, we are able to review our legislation to see whether we can deliver more effective and efficient outcomes for both the environment and businesses. We will continue to work closely with industry and other interested stakeholders to understand their concerns and discuss how these might be addressed, while ensuring our high levels of protection of human health and the environment.”
UK REACH is clearly a very important part of the chemical industry supply chain, which is why the CBA wants prompt clarification of the new model.
“The whole of UK Plc waited from 2016 with the Brexit vote, but didn’t get clarity until six days before we left the EU,” says Doggett. “We can’t afford to do the same with UK REACH, which is a product of Brexit. Industry needs adequate time to prepare. It’s not so much the requirement to fulfil the obligation, because the chemical industry is already safe; it’s more about getting the documentation in place to satisfy the regulation.
“I’ve stressed to government that extending that deadline is not to give them more time to consider the new model, but to give industry the time it needs for implementation; the clock is ticking and we need clarity,” continues Doggett. “The discussions after that letter from George Eustice were rapid and urgent, which was encouraging to see. As an association, our membership wants a workable, pragmatic, safe, effective outcome.”
CHEM Trust, an organisation which seeks to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals, says the delay in finding a solution to address the central data challenge of good chemicals regulation questions the viability of the current UK REACH regulatory model, which is based on duplicating EU regulatory processes.
In its view, the opportunity should be taken to undertake a system review and explore the pragmatic option for avoiding costs and burdens on industry without undermining public health and environmental protection, by closely harmonising with REACH in the EU.
According to CHEM Trust, the delay to accessing full chemical safety data will make it difficult for the UK regulator to identify, monitor and control risks from hazardous chemicals, and to defend controls from legal challenge.
Dr Michael Warhurst, executive director of CHEM Trust, said at the time of the government’s announcement: “This effectively kicks a solution to the central data challenge of good chemicals regulation into the long grass, meaning that the UK system will not have registration data on the highest-volume chemicals for another four years; 15 years after the EU REACH registration deadline for these chemicals. This delay begs the question as to whether UK REACH is a viable regulatory system, and CHEM Trust calls on the government to undertake a full review and instead develop a system where the default is to adopt decisions made by the EU’s data-rich REACH system.”
BOX: CIA praises deadline extension
The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) says it has always harboured concerns about the costly data duplication exercise that UK REACH would entail. It released a statement on its website welcoming the government’s announcement: “Confirmation that, subjectto consultation, the government is minded to extend the existing UK REACH deadline, provides more time to carry out further work on a longer-term solution which can deliver the same, if not better, outcomes in regulating chemicals in the UK, whilst reducing those unnecessary costs generated by the costly data duplication exercise required by the current UK REACH regime.”
It added: “The industry understands and supports the need for robust chemical regulation, and this confirmation allows for a more forward-looking approach to managing chemicals in the UK from a commercial, health and environmental perspective.”