Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is a European Union regulation dating from 18 December 2006. REACH addresses the production and use of chemical substances, and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment. Its 849 pages took seven years to pass, and it has been described as the most complex legislation in the Union's history and the most important in 20 years. It is the strictest law to date regulating chemical substances and will affect industries throughout the world. REACH entered into force on 1 June 2007, with a phased implementation over the next decade. The regulation also established the European Chemicals Agency, which manages the technical, scientific and administrative aspects of REACH.
When REACH is fully in force, it will require all companies manufacturing or importing chemical substances into the European Union in quantities of one tonne or more per year to register these substances with a new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki, Finland. Since REACH applies to some substances that are contained in objects, any company importing goods into Europe could be affected.
The European Commission’s (EC) White Paper of 2001 on a ‘future chemical strategy’ proposed a system that requires chemicals manufactured in quantities of greater than 1 tonne to be ‘registered’, those manufactured in quantities greater than 100 tonnes to be ‘evaluated’, and certain substances of high concern (for example carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction - CMR’s) to be ‘authorised’.
The EC adopted its proposal for a new scheme to manage the manufacture, importation and supply of chemicals in Europe on in October 2003. This proposal eventually became law once the European Parliament officially approved its final text of REACH. It came into force on 1 June 2007.
One of the major elements of the REACH regulation is the requirement to communicate information on chemicals up and down the supply chain. This ensures that manufacturers, importers, and also their customers are aware of information relating to health and safety of the products supplied. For many retailers the obligation to provide information about substances in their products within 45 days of receipt of a request from a consumer is particularly challenging. Having detailed information on the substances present in their products will allow retailers to work with the manufacturing base to substitute or remove potentially harmful substances from products. The list of harmful substances is continuously growing and requires organizations to constantly monitor any announcements and additions to the REACH scope.