Chemical accountability in Europe explained 

Companies in Europe or that do business in Europe must adhere to rules and regulations around chemicals used for processes and products. Here, we look at how your organization is accountable for chemicals you use. 

In Europe, companies need to identify, assess and report chemicals they use, with checks required by law. Specifically, they must understand regulations set by REACH. 

REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals, and was introduced in 2007 as a safeguard on the use and distribution of chemicals in Europe.  

Register your chemicals

This applies to chemicals in industrial processes and chemicals found in products commonly used in our daily lives such as paints, clothes, cleaning agents, electrical goods, etc.  The implications of REACH mean companies must identify and manage the risk in their chemicals and register their chemicals. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) then evaluates the registrations for compliance. The standards apply to any company of any size anywhere in the supply chain, in any sector. In essence, you must realize your company will be accountable for the safe use of chemical substances you put into the market to use. 

The conclusion from the largest ever screening program in Europe was that the population, especially children, were exposed to alarmingly high levels of hazardous chemicals. 

Be rigorous in assessing your chemicals

Health and safety and environmental protection will be weak if information about chemicals is not found, misunderstood or ignored. The best way to be sure your chemical assessments are thorough is with a combination of solutions. One method may not be enough.  

For example, a common way to check hazardous substances, which reveal information on hazards, storage, handling and emergency measures – is with safety data sheets (SDS) but these may not provide all the information you need such as a full list of ingredients and impurities. In 2008 a study concluded that many products had chemicals not picked up on a safety data sheet. Reasons for this were varied, for example, patent laws meant ingredients were not always disclosed even when they were toxic in nature. Another issue is that higher concentrations may be not aligned with what’s stated on the SDS. Government oversight can also be poor and when inaccurate information on the SDS is revealed, it does not warrant particularly steep penalties. However, safety data sheets are mandatory and certainly part of the methodology for understanding chemicals, but more robust, detailed screening is advised for a higher standard of checks. Enhesa’s ToxPlanet incorporates SDSs as a part of a wider strategy, for example, giving you a catalogue of SDSs.  

You need to look at your suppliers closely, engaging with them to identify their chemical use. 

Use Supply Chain Connect for engaging with suppliers

We recommend the solution, Supply Chain Connect, which helps you engage meaningfully with your suppliers to scrutinize their chemicals and get the data you need, which ultimately could impact your business. It also protects your suppliers’ confidential information to increase buy-in. 

The rise of toxic chemicals in Europe

It’s alarming that the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) estimates that up to 30% of occupational diseases including cancer, neurological and respiratory ailments in Europe, are occurring due to exposure to chemical substances. This bleak statistic reveals how identifying and using safe chemicals in your processes as well as products has become problematic for industry. The EU is concerned about exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace. As a case in point, in February 2024, Members of European Parliament (MEPS) adopted new rules for the first time in 40 years around exposure to lead and created new limits around diisocyanates for the first time in history. Lead is toxic in a way that it can affect both gender’s fertility, fetal development, damage the nervous system, kidneys and provoke high blood pressure. Diisocyanates can cause occupational asthma and allergic reactions. There is an impetus to update the rules around exposure to many chemicals and this is a compelling reason to know your chemicals in work environments.

While workers can suffer from chemical exposure, the dangers are equally concerning for products on sale to customers, that conceal hidden hazardous chemicals. In this regard, it came to light, in March 2023 when the European Commission published its yearly Safetygate report about products that pose health hazards, in Europe, that there was a rise in alerts for chemical safety hazards. It transpired that 51% of all alerts were chemical hazards (up from 35% in 2022), a statistic that made chemical hazards the most reported hazard category. Shockingly, many were discovered to be in cosmetics like beauty products and worse still, in children’s toys. 

Hazardous chemicals, such as PFAS, being prevalent in well-known branded goods, have become lead stories in the mainstream press, as a modern crisis that we’re awakening to. With PFAS revealed in everything from types of wet weather gear to kitchen utensils, it is clear that some toxic chemicals have found paths into the marketplace with potentially devastating consequences for the public, the environment and for the businesses that missed them in their quest for functionality in materials. You can find out more about PFAS regulations here: PFAS regulatory developments | Enhesa. Knock-on effects of stories such as PFAS affecting the safety of products, is that brand reputations can be left in tatters and penalties, bans and recalls besmirch what remains of product lines and company names. 

Chemical impacts for all Europeans

In 2023, European Human Biomonitoring Initiative, a five-year long program with 116 government agencies, universities and laboratories tested the most problematic chemical substances in urine and blood from 13,000 people from 28 European countries. The conclusion from the largest ever screening program in Europe was that the population, especially children, were exposed to alarmingly high levels of hazardous chemicals. 

It’s never been more important to assess, understand and substitute your chemicals when there is a chance that they are hazardous in any way.  

Assess your chemicals quickly

While it can be a burden on resources and time to screen chemicals, using a tool like Chemical Assess, you can use chemical hazard assessments to help you understand what chemicals you should avoid or substitute almost instantly, via a search function. 

The rules around chemical management are constantly changing. In April 2024, there was a move to phase out non-essential use of harmful chemicals in a communication by the European Commission. While some hazardous chemicals used in defense and security and for societal necessity will continue to be acceptable, when they are associated with products that are classed as non-essential use they will be prohibited when in food contact materials, childcare products, as examples. Every step in legislation aims to minimize acceptance of any kind of toxic risk to society. This is why you need to have solutions that check your own chemicals. You, and your suppliers, need to take proactive chemical assessments as early as possible in your planning to keep ahead of new regulations that are coming down the line, to protect the operation. 

Every step in legislation aims to minimize acceptance of any kind of toxic risk to society.

Labelling your products correctly

Another aspect of chemical accountability is in correctly labelling your products with chemical information. Manufacturers, importers and downstream users must be sure of the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) regulation, especially if they have harmful properties according to CLP criteria. Recently, new hazard classes were updated to cover bioaccumulation, endocrine disruptors and mobile chemical threats. 

One of the biggest headaches for manufacturers is the sheer volume of regulatory information that needs sifting and adhering to. There will also be certifications that you need, to continue production. 

It’s imperative to understand the need for an emphasis on chemical hazard assessment as a vital step in accountability for your company in all we have mentioned, as it can help align a range of positive impacts for production.  

Chemicals are the foundation of your materials and your products and processes. Understanding them and knowing which are safe will be fundamental for your success. We recommend you talk to the friendly and knowledgeable team at Enhesa Sustainable Chemistry, the leading experts in this field, to ensure you are known to workers, customers and stakeholders for best practices in sustainable chemistry management.  

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