Spring is now in full bloom and the thoughts of many will be focused on the summer months and holidays approaching. But should our thoughts be elsewhere? When it comes to REACH and matters of chemical compliance, our attention certainly should be.

REACH revitalised the laws governing the chemical industry when it came into force last year, on 1st June 2007. Pre-registration for this radical raft of regulation begins on 1st June 2008, leaving all involved with what is effectively a race against time to stay in business.

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) is so complex and indeed thorough, that its impact is likely to be felt not just across the chemicals sector, but also the industrial gases business.

“It has the potential to be of massive impact to the chemical industry, of which we are all part of. REACH is here,” commented recently David Hopper, Health & Safety Manager for Air Liquide UK Ltd and Chairman of the British Compressed Gases Association’s (BCGA) Technical Sub-Committee 5 (TSC5).

Of such immense impact on the gases industry is the new regulation, that the topic was addressed at the BCGA’s recent 2008 conference and Hopper highlighted the need for focus during his TSC5 presentational update.

Describing the importance and complexity of REACH, Hopper told delegates, “It is the new EU chemicals policy, it replaces current legislation, and it’s a radical overhaul for existing chemicals legislation which has been around for years. It’s a massive overhaul.”

“Any regulation that is about 800 pages long, that’s already got about 10,000 pages of guidance to it, gives you some idea of how complex this is. And don’t forget, these are a regulation not a directive, and a regulation is immediately applicable - it doesn’t need to go to national law, it’s straight away, it’s here, you’ve got no option. You may not like it, but that’s it.”

It’s thought that many do not like it and nor do they fully understand what exactly it stands for. Before anything can begin to be controlled or dealt with, it must first be understood. It seems that in the case of REACH this is just as fundamental, as the legislation has the ability to eventually bring a business to its knees, if not adhered to.
Hopper explained to the BCGA conference’s nearly 200 attendees, what the new law entails, “So it’s all about managing the risks to people and the environment, of chemicals. Normal, none of us can argue against that.”

“But to achieve this REACH requires the registration of all chemicals manufactured or imported into the EU eventually, at quantities of more than one tonne per year. That applies to massive rafts of chemicals.”

“It requires a generation of dossier, to assess information on these risks, to determine risk, and these dossiers are huge. They will require animal testing, possibly. It will require the formation of consortia to evaluate information, because unnecessary animal testing is something we don’t want to do. It requires the production of exposure scenarios, to minimise the risk to people and the environment from chemicals. For the very harmful or hazardous substances, it requires a commitment to try and substitute these with less harmful ones, or a limited authorisation for a limited period, to continue to use it. That applies to these really hazardous substances, when in our industry perhaps carbon monoxide can really fit within that category.”

It’s easy to understand how such a complicated and wide-ranging issue leaves companies and their customers baffled, or turned off by this. It’s hoped that REACH will provide the industry with greater responsibility to manage the risks from products, chemicals and gases, while also ensuring the protection of human health and the environment. A plethora of substances fall under the umbrella of legislation however, and a unified system to control these is bound to boast a high level of complexity.

Doug Thornton, Director of the BCGA, told gasworld in September 2007, “Over and above, REACH is supposed to be the better answer.”

“REACH is even more complex because as well as registering the properties and behaviour of the basic species, the chemical, REACH overlays on what was the Existing Chemicals (directive) that failed.”

Race against time
As the Pre-registration timetable looms large on the horizon and is now less than 6 weeks away, the time has come for those in the industry to knuckle down and take stock of how this may affect their business.
Pre-registration runs from June until the end of November 2008 and could prove detrimental to the efficient operation of a company’s business. After November, full registration becomes applicable and a lengthy timetable of events could then take place, impacting on a business from anything between 2-10 years. The Pre-registration process is apparently a lot simpler to do than a full registration and does not commit a company to fully register, with all involved in the industry urged to take notice and take action as soon as possible.

Emphasising the sands of time that are increasingly slipping away, Hopper told delegates, “REACH came into force on 1st June 2007, it’s been with us now for nearly a year but we haven’t had to actually start practically doing a hell of a lot - but it’s started ramping up now, quite quickly.”

“There is still time, but not much. I can assure you, as far as REACH is concerned if you do nothing you have a problem. On 1st June 2008, Pre-registration begins and it runs for a limited period only, until the end of November this year. Time has a habit of flying by, so be aware of the timetable,” Hopper underlined.

Following successful Pre-registration, companies are likely to benefit from shared data and ultimately, the all-important licence to use the substance(s) in question. Hopper noted, “After Pre-registration. Well the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki, of which there are now more than 460 employees, will contact all pre-registrants to advise who else has pre-registered. The pre-registrants will then work together towards registration by forming these substance information exchange forums, and then move towards preparing exposure scenarios - and finally the registration dossier will be produced, you’ll submit it and you have your licence number.”

Caution was urged however as he added, “Sounds easy when it’s put like that, but there is a tremendous amount of work which is going to need to be involved.”

Gases industry impact
If you thought the industrial gases industry wasn’t really affected, think again.
The European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) summer Workshop in June will dedicate its event to the theme of REACH and its member association’s BCGA 2008 Annual Conference in Leeds, UK provided the perfect platform to raise awareness to this issue too. The regulation certainly hasn’t escaped the attention of these bodies, or Air Liquide UK’s Hopper, and nor should it fail to catch the eye of the industrial gas companies.
While it had previously been thought that around 75% of the industrial gas business would not be affected, recent revisions suggest that the scenario is now much different.

Hopper explains, “Many of the main gases are currently shown as exempt from REACH. Argon, nitrogen, CO2, oxygen, hydrogen, LPG, natural gas, xenon - all of these were listed initially, and I say initially, as not being within REACH. But a word of caution here: a consultant has now looked at this list and decided that argon, nitrogen and CO2 could affect the aquatic environment, so they’re now under review.”

“Crazy I know, but watch this space. We may actually need to register these bulk gases that are so important to our industry. This could mean all gases need to be registered, effectively.”

Taking action
For all its aforementioned complexities and intricacies, the regulation is actually largely dependent on the volume of gases or chemicals used. Enterprises which manufacture or import more than one tonne of a chemical substance per year are required to register this in the central database administered by the EU Chemicals Agency.

This is affirmed by Hopper as he commented on the requirements and action to be taken.
“REACH is tonnage dependent, the timetable depends on hazard and volume used. You need to know your bands, which fit within one tonne, ten tonnes, a hundred tonnes and a thousand tonnes per year. If it’s less than one tonne, great, REACH will never apply,” he said adding, “And the next steps you need to take. If you’re an importer or a manufacturer get ready to pre-register. If you’re a downstream user, check your supplier is going to pre-register, otherwise you may not have a chemical to use. If your supplier is not going to pre-register, then either you can do it or you can look for an alternative.”

The relevance of REACH is then, unquestionable. Its significance is subjective, its prospective power is unequivocal. Time is fast running out for companies to wake up to the ramifications of REACH and become compliant with this potentially critical model of regulation.

Having delivered an insightful and perhaps much-needed awareness-raising presentation, Hopper concluded with a message to all in attendance of the BCGA conference and encouraged action.

“I’d like you to make sure that you’ve got an inventory, I’d like you to make sure that you’re ready for Pre-registration, I’d like you to communicate with your suppliers and your customers, to keep up with new developments. And whatever happens, don’t miss the boat for Pre-registration, please don’t wake up on 1st June and have that nagging thought that I know I’ve got to do something and I know I’ve done nothing.”

gasworld was privileged to be present at the BCGA Annual Conference 2008 and would like to thank all those involved for this opportunity.

A full review of this year’s conference can be found on the gasworld website or in the May edition of gasworld magazine.