NGO analysis on the delay of chemicals law reform
EU Commission’s delay of chemicals reform endangers human health, the environment and EU industry competitiveness, study shows.
The long-awaited reform of the EU’s flagship chemicals law, REACH, has the potential to ensure significant positive impacts on human health and the environment, the functioning of the circular economy, and the competitiveness and innovation potential of European industry.
Yet, on 18 October 2022, the European Commission caved into German chemical industry pressure  and announced in their 2023 Work Programme, a 12 month delay for the publication of the revision proposal of REACH, moving it to the fourth quarter of 2023.
Such a delay will have dramatic and far-reaching consequences by putting at risk the future of the EU green economic transition and perpetuating the current, insufficient level of protection of humans, animals and the wide toxic pollution situation , according to the study ‘Waiting for REACH: The negative impacts of delaying reform of EU chemical laws’, published today by the EEB and CHEM Trust.
In this study the EEB and CHEM Trust analysed the impact of such a postponement, showing that the impact goes well beyond a mere delay: the current parliamentary term would have no chance to finish institutional negotiations before elections in 2024, significantly delaying the REACH revision even further, damaging the Green Deal legacy and creating huge uncertainties about the direction of the EU chemicals industry. This would come at a time when clarity is needed regarding the regulatory framework and a clear signal sent to the market and investors regarding the phase-out of hazardous substances and the direction in which innovation will need to go.
If the revision of REACH is further delayed, hazardous substances will continue to be managed ineffectively, negatively impacting:
- The European Green Deal goals of biodiversity, air and water quality, and human health (including for workers and consumers).
- The EU’s transition towards a sustainable, circular and resilient economy, with clear direction for innovation and investors.
- The development of safer alternatives, undermining efforts to detoxify consumer everyday products, including childcare articles and sustainable textiles.
- The achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals and the EU’s climate and social targets, with far-reaching consequences for the EU and the world.
Shortcomings in the current chemicals control law were already identified by numerous studies pointing out increasing exposure levels in human and environmental monitoring, as recently published by the “Forever Pollution Project” for PFAS across the EU. The project found about 17,000 sites across Europe contaminated by the ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS, which accumulate in the environment and remain hazardous for generations. The world’s leading chemicals law, REACH, did not prevent this pollution from happening.
Investors are also concerned about toxic chemicals, and a group managing $8 trillion in assets has written to the world’s biggest chemicals companies urging them to phase out the use of PFAS. They also believe that stricter chemical regulation would mean less risk for them when investing in companies within the EU.
The European Green Deal raised an urgent need to reform REACH and fix these major shortcomings, in order to increase the level of protection and ensure that European industries innovate towards safer and more sustainable chemicals.
Speaking at an event on REACH reform hosted by Renew Europe in Brussels last week, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said European Commission officials are “working full speed on the revision” and that the REACH proposal will be ready “hopefully before summer”.
In order to avoid devastating consequences, the authors of the report call on the Commission to publish the REACH proposal at the latest by June 2023, in order to ensure that the regulatory process is advanced to a state that allows it to be concluded swiftly after the start of the new Commission’s mandate in 2024.
→ The study is attached under embargo. It will be published at the following address: https://eeb.org/library/waiting-for-reach/
→ A selection of quotes is included after the notes section.
 Capitalising on Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, in the beginning of 2022, the German industry associations (VCI and BDI), conducted an aggressive lobby against the revision of REACH, arguing that there was “no time for experiments”, and suggesting that any changes in policy could be deeply detrimental for European Industry, even though EU sold production of chemicals is on the rise. The EPP group also called for a “regulatory moratorium of REACH” in its position paper in September 2022.
 Scientists recently declared that chemical pollution had crossed a planetary boundary, while a UN environment report found that chemical pollution has caused more deaths than COVID-19.Daily exposure to a mix of toxic substances is linked to rising health, fertility, developmental threats, as well as the collapse of insect, bird and mammal populations. Some 12,000 chemicals known to cause cancer, infertility, reduce vaccine effectiveness and generate other health impacts are still widely found in everyday products, including sensitive categories like baby nappies and pacifiers. Doctors describe babies as born “pre-polluted”.
Patrick ten Brink, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
“EU officials’ hard work in delivering a transformative Green Deal legislative roadmap is bogged down by last-minute political decisions coming from top-level Commissioners. This unjustified self-sabotage only responds to political and industry pressure. People are asking for bold policies to speed up the pace of change towards a clean, resilient and toxic-free future. By prioritising short-term profits over people and the environment, the EU risks losing citizens’ trust and risks compromising long-term competitiveness and resilience. Furthermore, any delay in the REACH revision will undermine Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal legacy. A ‘person-on-the-moon-moment’ risks being missed.”
Michael Warhurst, Executive Director, CHEM Trust
“People and the environment continue to be exposed to hazardous chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, and the longer the REACH revision takes, the longer this exposure continues due to the ineffectiveness of current procedures. We need the new REACH to set a target to phase out the most harmful chemicals by 2030, and we need that new legislation to be in force as soon as possible.”
Stefan Scheuer, Chief EU Policy Advocate at CHEM Trust, added:
“German industry is waging an ideological battle against regulation in an effort to turn back the clock of the Green Deal.”
Zakia Khattabi, Belgian Federal Minister for Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and the Green Deal
“All lights are green! The last hurdle for the Commission to publish the long-awaited revision of the REACH regulation has been cleared! The Regulatory Scrutiny Board has given a favourable opinion on the Commission’s impact assessment. I therefore once again call on the Commission to publish the REACH revision as soon as possible.
The Commission has already proven that it can achieve high ambitions in climate and environmental policies when it delivers on the promises of the Green Deal. It is now time to deliver on one of the crucial dossiers and take important steps to further ensure a high level of protection to the environment and health and to accompany chemical companies on their way to the green and digital transition.”
Martin Hojsík, Member of the European Parliament, Renew Europe Group
“We urge the Commission to not delay publication of REACH 2.0 beyond June 2022 as there would be no time left to finalise this long-awaited reform of the chemical legislation. It seems that some in the Commission do hear us, but the expectations on the Parliament’s side are great. The European industry needs a policy framework that will incentivize transition to safe, circular and less energy intensive chemicals. If we want the industry of tomorrow, we have to start with ambitious changes today. The REACH 2.0 will ensure that it stays a global leader in safe and sustainable chemistry and that it is resilient in times of crisis. It will ensure an effective phase out of the most harmful chemicals to keep our activities within the planetary boundaries and to protect the health of every individual.”
Sylvie Lemoine, Executive Director of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
“The new REACH should support our industry in the unprecedented double twin transition. It should ensure we can innovate and invest with confidence in the materials of tomorrow, help boost circularity, step up enforcement, streamline regulatory procedures, remove bottlenecks, give a thrust to alternatives to animal testing and create markets for safe and sustainable chemicals. We need a REACH that does all these things to move further along the Transition Pathway to 2050.”
Monique Goyens, Director General at BEUC
“Consumers need much more certainty that the products they use daily do not contain harmful chemicals. In 2020, the European Commission itself called for a toxic-free environment but it has yet to turn this political ambition into concrete actions. A reform of the EU’s flagship REACH legislation is overdue as it is the only way to help authorities act against harmful chemicals before their use becomes widespread in consumer products.
We should avoid the situation we have today where national authorities are proposing a general PFAS ban long after these harmful chemicals have become common in clothing, cleaning agents and food packaging. Better chemicals legislation should mean that such chemicals never make it to market in the first place.”
Anne-Sofie Bäckar, Executive Director at ChemSec
“REACH revision is the most important part of making the Chemicals Strategy reality. Industry is already adapting, and investors are relying on it. It is urgent to phase out the most harmful substances from products and this will unlock the market for alternative providers and boost innovation. The message we get is clear; publish the REACH revision by June.”
Tony Musu, Senior Researcher for the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)
“Work-related cancers are the first cause of death at work with more than 100 000 deaths per year in the EU – These cancers are preventable, they are due to bad working conditions with carcinogens. Most of the time, workers don’t know they are exposed.”
EEB Head of Chemicals Policy Tatiana Santos (ES / EN / FR)
CHEM Trust Executive Director, Michael Warhurst (EN)
CHEM Trust Stefan Scheuer (DE)
EEB Chemicals Policy Officer Mariana Goulart (PT / IT / EN / ES)