UK government’s targeted approach proposal for UK REACH, ‘a step in the right direction’

Article by Kerry Hebden

THE UK government is planning to introduce an alternative transitional registration model (ATRm) to ease the transition of chemical registrations from EU REACH to UK REACH, the UK’s equivalent chemical regulatory system established after Brexit. 

Currently, UK companies are required to register the same chemical information with both bodies if they want to trade chemicals in Europe. However, ministers are looking to establish a system that adopts a more targeted approach while still ensuring high levels of protection to human health and the environment. 

Under the new proposal, UK companies will not have to provide all chemical hazard information to UK regulators – Defra, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Environment Agency – and will instead just provide the use and exposure information of a chemical substance. Nishma Patel, policy director at the Chemicals Industry Association, said this is because hazard information will already have been submitted to EU REACH and is publicly available. 

“There is no need to duplicate the whole registration process that was undertaken in the EU,” Patel said. “For UK regulators it is just the use and exposure information that would be more useful to decide if and how they would regulate a particular substance or a group of substances.” Patel noted that this approach is just for transition registrations, and that for any new chemical registrations, hazards information may need to be submitted to both systems if a company wants access to the European market. 

The new ATR model is being hailed as a positive step by industry, which raised concerns to regulators about the significant cost businesses faced accessing data needed to support UK REACH transitional registrations. 

According to the European Chemical Industry Council, the cost of preparing and maintaining a chemical substance with REACH is, on average, between €50,000 and €2m (US$54,000 and US$2.2m). These costs are often split between firms if the chemical was developed and manufactured by a consortium, which means an individual firm in the group does not solely own the data. 

In the wake of Brexit, however, many UK firms found they had to pay a fee to the consortium to release the data they needed to register those same chemicals with UK REACH, despite already paying a share of the initial costs of submitting an EU REACH registration. 

Evidence submitted to parliament by David Wright, director general, UK Lubricants Association Ltd, suggests that the average cost to a petrochemical company for a letter of access for the data “is around 10,000 euros per substance”. While for EU hazard information alone, the UK government estimates industry is spending around £2bn to buy or access the necessary data. 

Fees reviewed

The UK government also plans to review the fee structure. “As a sector we pay the same fees to access 27 markets [with EU REACH], opposite one market. Having a review of the fee structures and looking at a more sustainable cost scenario is good news,” Patel said. But the devil is in the detail she warns, “and we haven't yet got those”. 

The Chemical Business Association (CBA) also welcomed the announcement on UK REACH, saying that it had been campaigning since December 2021 for government to provide some much-needed clarity on the legislation for industry to act on. 

Commenting, Tim Doggett, CEO of the CBA, said: “The uncertainty around UK REACH continues to stifle investment and have a negative impact not just on the chemical industry, but industry as a whole and its ability to trade, innovate and grow.” 

Doggett also noted that while the ATRm was “very encouraging and a step in the right direction”, more work on the regulations needed to be done to make UK REACH “proportionate, effective, and efficient, for industry and regulators alike”. He said: “The chemical industry touches all facets of our everyday lives, so the implications of UK REACH are not just the implementation costs…but also the impact on the ability of business as a whole to be competitive in a global market.” 

The government said it intends to consult on fuller details of the policy in early 2024.

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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