U.S. Paint Manufacturers and REACH: Understanding Compliance Obligations
In June 2007, the European Union (EU) regulation covering the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) was finalized. Similar in intent to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the United States, the REACH regulation is different in that it reverses the burden of proof from the EU government having to demonstrate that the use of a chemical is unsafe, to industry having to show the uses for chemicals it wants to sell in the EU are safe.
It must be stressed that the REACH regulation is primarily focused on EU-based chemical manufacturers and importers, as well as EU-based coatings companies and their customers in the EU. REACH, however, will also affect U.S. coatings manufacturers who export products to EU customers since those customers are considered chemical importers under the REACH regulation. U.S. paint industry customers in the EU will be requesting information and other forms of support from their U.S.-based suppliers, who will need to have an EU-based resource that can verify the required REACH compliance information.
REACH compliance is designed to engage the whole "supply chain" for chemical products including manufacturers, distributors, formulators, applicators, and (coated) product manufacturers. Each entity in the supply chain has a role to ensure safe use of a chemical, either by testing the material or by providing information for a risk profile that will ensure safe use. Formulators, like coatings manufacturers, are required to obtain critical information from their suppliers in order to support the detailed registration process that will account for each use of a given chemical in every formulated product sold in the EU. While this may seem excessively redundant and a wasteful duplication of effort to U.S. manufacturers used to dealing with TSCA (which registers chemicals, not "uses of chemicals"), it is nevertheless a critical REACH requirement, one that is markedly different than any prior chemical control regulation.
While many REACH compliance deadlines are far distant (years away), the initial critical compliance requirement was the "pre-registration" period that began June 1, 2008 and ran through December 1, 2008. Pre-registration was the mechanism in the rule that allowed companies that were already manufacturing or importing chemicals into the EU prior to the effective date of June 2007, to maintain their "status quo." By pre-registering current uses of chemicals in the EU under REACH, commercial activities can continue until such time as a final registration (when more detailed information must be provided) is completed.
Only EU-based entities were able to pre-register chemical uses under REACH, and U.S.-based companies exporting products to customers in the EU had to find an EU-based agent to handle their pre-registration. Suitable agents include EU-based importers or distributors, EU customers, or an EU-based independent agent (known as an "only representative") willing to file the necessary information. Pre-registering was free, and required surprisingly little information and/or documentation than is now required for new chemical uses being introduced to the EU. Companies that identified a similar specific chemical use were automatically placed in a registrant "pool" of companies; the goal being to have these companies form a "consortium" to complete the requirements for final REACH registration. Pre-registration, besides being required for continued sales, also provided an extended time period for compliance with the rest of the REACH requirements.
The European Union's (EU) new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) continues to release industry guidance on the requirements for REACH and has become a reliable source for interpretive documents and news on compliance directives (see http://echa.europa.eu/reach_en.asp) Once particularly useful document is for frequently asked questions, which contains links to other REACH-related resources for US interests (see: http://echa.europa.eu/doc/reach/reach_faq.pdf).
ACA strongly encourages its members to consult the ECHA web page and resource guidance to understand current compliance obligations or to explore requirements before export to the EU.
ACA's Product Stewardship Committee leads the effort to address industry activities under REACH.