REACH is a European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals. It came into force on 1st June 2007 and replaced a number of European Directives and Regulations with a single system.
The competent authority in the United Kingdom is the Health & Safety Executive who state that REACH has several aims:
- To provide a high level of protection of human health and the environment from the use of chemicals.
- To make the people who place chemicals on the market (manufacturers and importers responsible for understanding and managing the risks associated with their use.)
- To allow the free movement of substances on the EU market.
- To enhance innovation in and the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.
- To promote the use of alternative methods for the assessment of the hazardous properties of substances e.g. quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSAR) and read across.
However the UK Government has stated in its negotiating position that it will not be subject to the European Court of Justice, which in turn limits which bodies the UK can contribute to. This has implications for the current REACH Regulations in the event that no deal is in place when the UK leaves the EU. Of direct relevance to furniture manufacturers, producers of articles will also have to register with an ‘importer’ or ‘only representative’ and the UK as a whole will lose its current level influence on the evaluation of chemicals and will no longer sit on the ECHA committee.
Recent statements by Therese Coffey, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Life Opportunities, to the Environmental Audit Committee suggest that the intention is for the UK chemical regulatory regime to broadly follow REACH after BREXIT.
Whilst the UK government are indicating that central concepts of the EU environmental acquis, namely the precautionary, polluter pays, dealing with pollution at source principles will be adopted into UK law, the UK prefers to take a risk based approach to the precautionary principle, rather than a decisive argument in favour of climate and environmental protection.
Therese Coffey stated that “it’s our intention that we will have very favourable conditions” to mitigate concerns over UK businesses having to comply with two different regulatory regimes. The expectation is that the UK scheme will be similar to the EU’s with “seamless approaches to assessment”. However there will be some changes as the UK will not be part of the single market and REACH is a single market mechanism.
The proposed British REACH regime, already commonly known as BREACH, has also led to the potential for further schemes from devolved administrations with a potential ScREACH from Scotland, though the hope remains that the UK will maintain its own internal single market and a single UK system for chemical registration.
British business has already spent in excess of £250million on REACH registration. It is unclear what the costs would be to maintain access to the ECHA databases, plus there would be additional costs relating to the development and maintenance of a UK competent authority. Currently responsibility is split between the Health & Safety Executive and a number of environmental regulators. Both the HSE and Environment Agency have indicated that they will need to increase their capability in order to administer BREACH.
ECHA have publicly stated their regret that the EU would lose the pragmatic approach to regulation that the UK brings and that they would be less involved in the debate over issues relating to the restriction and removal of chemicals that affect humans and the environment.