Concerns that previous European legislations were not providing adequate protection from chemical risks resulted in the new chemicals legislation REACH in 2007. In a recently defended doctoral thesis, Ellen Ingre-Khans at the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES), shows that the legislation is not transparent enough in part due to the protection of confidential business information.
Chemicals can provide us with many benefits but can also have negative effects on human health and the environment. In her thesis Ellen Ingre-Khans focuses on the implementation of the European Chemicals legislation REACH that came into force in 2007.
“REACH requires all European producers and importers of chemicals at or above one tonne per year to assess the hazard and risk of their chemicals and show that they can be safely used,” she says and explains that the information is registered with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and published on their website.
“I have looked specifically at the transparency of the chemical risk assessments submitted under REACH, in other words the possibility for a third party to scrutinise the assessments made by industry. I have also looked at the procedures and guidance developed by ECHA to help registrants evaluate the data they use in the assessments.”
One major conclusion in her thesis is that the hazard and risk assessments submitted by industry under REACH are semi-transparent and thus not possible to fully evaluate.
“This is to a great extent due to the protection of confidential business information”, says Ellen Ingre-Khans. “It is important that chemical risk assessments are transparent since the risk assessment process involves uncertainty and inherently depends on expert judgement. The assessments also risk being biased since industry evaluate their own chemicals. Consequently, the assessments must be possible to scrutinise by an independent party.”
A second major conclusion is that the current procedures for registrants to evaluate data and report these evaluations under REACH is neither fully systematic nor fully transparent.
“It is important that data are evaluated in a structured and transparent manner for generating robust assessments,” says Ellen Ingre-Khans.
She hopes that her work will contribute to improve transparency of industry’s risk assessments as well as developing more structured and transparent procedures for evaluating data under REACH.
“This is important to ensure that hazardous substances can be identified and adequately controlled, and thus safely used.”
Ellen Ingre-Khans thesis “Transparency within REACH? Regulatory risk assessment of industrial chemicals” can be read here.