Plan to target high-risk chemicals unveiled

A substance-specific enforcement strategy has been adopted by the Environment Agency to deal with the thorny issue of how to enforce the EU’s new chemical regime in England and Wales. The approach is likely to be adopted by other enforcement bodies.

Mercury, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) and tributyltin are among the substances to be targeted by the Environment Agency in a strategy it has developed to enforce the EU’s chemical regime, REACH. Enforcement activity is also planned around prohibitions on hexachlorobenzene and PCB contaminated equipment.

The Agency’s enforcement strategy will tackle specific substances on a sequential basis. Outlining the details at the government’s Chemicals Stakeholder Forum in January, it confirmed it plans to target hazardous substances by assessing compliance in the supply chains likely to use them.

It hopes that acting on ‘pinch points’ in the supply chain will mean minimal disruption for compliant firms: "There may be 10,000 firms using short chain chlorinated paraffins but just a handful of blenders and importers placing them on the market," said Richard Hawkins, head of the Agency’s chemical compliance team. "Acting here rather than targeting the end users means that there will be little or no impact on the rest of the supply chain."

He added that the approach met the government’s aim of enforcing REACH effectively but in ways which minimise administrative burdens. It should also allow the Agency to operate within the constraints of its modest REACH enforcement budget.

Under current work plans it hopes to target about six to eight substances a year.

Substances are to be prioritised on the basis of those restricted under the Control of Dangerous Substances and Preparations Regulations, usage patterns and on levels found in the environment where these data are available from Agency monitoring.

The work plan also links with the Agency’s pollution reduction plans for the water framework Directive. Several of the substances targeted for enforcement activity in 2009/10 are priority hazardous substances under the Directive.

When REACH’s annex XVII restrictions on marketing and use are in place, the Agency will enforce these "where the priority hazard is to the environment or to human health through exposure to the environment". It will also draw on the expertise of its in-house Chemical Assessment Unit. The unit’s role is to evaluate the environmental hazards and risks from the manufacture, use and disposal of industrial and consumer chemicals. Under REACH, it helps the Health and Safety Executive identify priority substances based on environmental hazards and risk assessments.

A central team of four, rising to six later this year, is to coordinate the work. The Agency says it believes this will make it better able to deal with REACH’s technical complexities.

The Agency will gather intelligence on chemicals prioritised for risk assessment and disseminate it through sectors thought to be using the substances. Compliance in the sector and its supply chains will then be assessed, followed by inspections and, if necessary, enforcement action.

The Agency has deemed trials of the approach a success. It has recently completed two "compliance campaigns" on nonyl phenol and its ethoxylates and short chain chlorinated paraffins. It is expected to report on these later this spring.

The HSE, meanwhile, said it was putting the finishing touches to its enforcement strategy. It is likely to adopt a similar approach to that of the Agency to ensure a consistent UK approach.

Agreement on a UK-wide enforcement strategy is expected when the liaison group of all the UK’s REACH enforcement bodies meet later this year. A memorandum of understanding outlining how the bodies will work together will also be agreed. This is expected to encourage authorities to carry out joint inspections and target substances in tandem.

In the meantime, the HSE confirmed that the cases it is currently dealing with are mainly self-admissions from firms who have just realised that they have not done what they should under REACH, for example, failing to pre-register.

Some 50 approaches have been made in the past couple of months. In addition it is dealing with about 12 cases where concerns about specific firms have been raised by industry. It says that while its approach was to "work with firms and get them back on track", in some cases it was about to serve enforcement notices.

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