The conversation at Chemical Watch's Enforcement Summit in Brussels last week (16-17 Oct) was all about how well (or otherwise) the EU and its member states are enforcing chemicals regulations.  The European Chemicals Agency's angle is that soft measures do work, but is that right?  The talk, both in the auditorium and during the networking, suggested a mixed picture, and we are seeing similar themes in our work with clients and contacts.  Here is my take on the top five messages emerging from the conference:

  • Free-riders are still free-riding: Huge sums of money have been spent by businesses in complying with the REACH Regulation and related chemicals regimes such as Biocidal Products, and those businesses are getting fed up with competitors who are not paying their way. REACH is more than 10 years old now: is it not time to take a harder line on those who try to fly under the radar?  The 'level playing field' was a recurring theme.
  • Have non regulatory drivers become just as important as enforcing the regulations?  The REACH Regulation is designed to drive substitution of hazardous chemicals for less hazardous chemicals, but for many businesses, it is the demands of customers wanting 'sustainable chemicals' that are the catalysts for change.
  • The drive for a circular economy is a big issue for chemicals and product compliance.  Is there a conflict between society's demands for re-use of valuable resources and the demand to know exactly what is in a product to 0.1% w/w or lower?  This is causing real issues at all stages of the product life cycle.  Expect further action.
  • The demand for empirical data (backed by the driving principle 'no data, no market') is also creating a tension between environmental groups wanting more information and animal rights groups wanting less animal testing.  There is a balance to be struck, and I am not sure we have reached it as yet.  Appeal cases on 'read across' continue to fill up the Board of Appeal's case load.
  • There is an increased (and welcomed) focus on better coordination with customs to stop non-compliant products entering the Single Market, but the scale of the problem is significant and there is a tension between checks and keeping movement through the ports flowing.  No-one  mentioned the 'Irish border question', but given the current challenges already faced in policing the borders for non-confirming goods, it is easy to see why the issue is so vexing.

These are tough issues without easy solutions.  To be clear, it is evident from our enforcement colleagues around the EU that a lot of hard work is being done on effective and proportionate enforcement of chemicals regulations.  But it is also clear that there is a lot more to do.