In recent years regulators have acknowledged that chemicals are a ubiquitous feature of modern life (in products, components, ingredients, tools and packaging). Their use and life cycle impacts have never been under greater scrutiny. Policy makers also acknowledge that innovative chemistry has a critical role to play in solving the climate and biodiversity crises.
2022 saw the European Commission focus on articulation and implementation of its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS), which is part of the wider European Green Deal. Key actions included, a public consultation on REACH revision and setting out a REACH Restrictions Roadmap, issuing Recommendations on the definition of nanomaterials, and on a European assessment framework for "safe and sustainable by design" chemicals and materials, and an initiative to revise the EU Regulation on classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals ("CLP") and introduce new hazard classes for substances which are endocrine disrupting ("ED"), persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic ("PBT"), very persistent and very bioaccumulative ("vPvB"), persistent, mobile and toxic ("PMT"), or very persistent and very mobile ("vPvM").
In early 2023 we expect to see the much-anticipated REACH restriction proposal on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in which around 4,000+ PFAS are likely to be targeted. Future criteria for "essential use", which will become a key feature of future chemical regulation, are likely to be influenced by determinations of essentiality made in the PFAS-specific context. Towards the end of 2023 we can expect to see proposals to revise REACH and on improving access to and availability, sharing and re-use of chemical data for the purpose of chemical safety assessments (facilitating the "one substance one assessment" goal).
In the UK, during 2022, the various UK environmental law-makers and regulators (with devolved responsibilities) have been active but more focused on adapting to their new roles in an independent UK. Although the January 2018 "25 Year Environment Plan" for England set a goal of "managing exposure to chemicals", with further detail to be set out in a chemicals strategy, that strategy is still awaited. The UK will, however, have an opportunity to do things differently. The "Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022-23" (branded the "Brexit Freedoms Bill"), would enable the revocation, amendment or replacement of retained EU law. The Bill would automatically revoke all retained EU law within scope on 31 December 2023, except where it has been expressly preserved before then by secondary legislation.
In 2023, the registration deadlines of UK REACH will be extended to 2026, 2028 and 2030 (depending on tonnage band and hazard classification). The far greater challenge (for registrants and regulators) will be addressing the huge data gaps arising from the UK's exit from the EU without access to ECHA's databases. Further work will also be undertaken on the potential for a "new model" for REACH registrations, which imposes less of a cost and regulatory burden and is more target to the GB context.
Finally, five priorities have been identified for the 2022 to 2023 UK REACH work program, namely:
- PFAS – acting on the recommendations of a Regulatory Management Options Analysis (RMOA);
- Intentionally added microplastics – an evidence project on identifying and managing the risks they pose;
- Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers in articles – an RMOA to review the evidence base and evaluate a potential restriction;
- Bisphenols in thermal paper – an RMOA to review the evidence base and evaluate a potential restriction; and
- Hazardous flame retardants – reviewing and updating the existing evidence on potential environmental risks, to feed into wider chemicals policy.
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