Action needed to substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives

6th September 2016

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  • Chemicals ,
  • Engineering and metals ,
  • Management ,
  • Supply chain ,
  • Politics & Economics


Fergus McGrady

Chemical substitution initiatives by the European Commission, member states and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) remain largely disconnected, according to a new report.

Risk management and the REACH regulation are the main drivers in European for managing hazardous chemicals and only substances of very high concern (SCHC) require an analysis to ensure they are progressively replaced by safer alternatives.

The ECHA commissioned the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production to identify specific priorities that it and other public authorities could support to advance hazardous chemicals substitution programmes and practices across the EU.

In an industry survey for the report, 81% of respondents stated that they have implemented substitutes for hazardous chemicals in the past ten years, with REACH the key driver. Product safety and occupational safety and health regulations and market pressures also led to alternatives being introduced.

The report argues that ECHA and member states currently put most of their efforts and resources into collecting data on hazardous chemicals and assessing risks rather than supporting alternatives. ‘Researching and evaluating alternatives is an important component of substitution initiatives and the majority of member states expressed limited capacity in this area,’ the report finds.

It also points out that regulatory requirements alone may be insufficient to ensure effective substitution, particularly among smaller firms with limited technical expertise and resources. ‘It is important that government authorities supplement the regulatory drivers with capacity building and the facilitation of resources (technical and financial) to substitute,’ the report says.

Lead author, Professor Tickner of the University of Massachusetts, said Europe could learn lessons from the US: ‘One aspect, is that the pressure to substitute hazardous chemicals in the US derives more through the supply chains, where the retailers and brands play a key role. Improved sectoral and supply chain collaboration and information sharing could accelerate substitution in Europe even before regulatory actions are taken.’

The report recommends more public-private partnerships, and more detailed guidance and technical support to ensure successful substitution. ‘These investments need to be coupled with enhanced inter-authority and stakeholder collaboration on substitution and the development of expert networks that can support industry and authorities,’ it says.

Geert Dancet, the ECHA’s executive director, said the report findings were ‘very interesting and highly valuable’ and would help the agency’s work on alternatives to hazardous substances.


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