Group approach boosts pace of chemicals assessment, ECHA says

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) assessed 1,900 chemicals registered in groups in 2020, far more than in previous years, finding that interventions may be needed for 290 of them.

The regulator’s third report on its Integrated Regulatory Strategy demonstrates the benefits of assessing chemicals in groups, rather than individually. The new approach has allowed it to review twice the number of substances in 2020 than in 2019, and ten times the number over 2014-18.

“There were two main reasons for rethinking and reframing our approach. The first was a clear observation that working with groups rather than individual substances has become a must,” wrote ECHA’s executive director Bjorn Hansen in a foreword.

“Handling 10 substances in one go is much more resource efficient than dealing with them one by one. It speeds up our assessments, gets risks controlled more quickly and makes it clear which substances carry the same risks, so companies know to avoid them when switching to alternatives,” he added.

Many of the 290 may be carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, respiratory sensitisers or have properties such as bioaccumulation and environmental persistence, says the report.  More data will need to be generated to confirm such hazards before any action can be taken. In around 100 cases this will likely be a new harmonised classification, which in turn could lead to restrictions or other measures.

Group assessments have also demonstrated that there is no need for further risk management interventions for around two thirds of the substances assessed, again based on currently available data.

ECHA is working towards sorting all chemicals registered above a tonne per year into three groups by 2027. These are to establish if they are priorities for regulatory risk management, low priority for action, or require further data to be produced.

The report stresses that the task is not for the regulator alone. “To avoid standstills in the flow of substances from assessment to regulatory risk management actions, member states need to ensure that substances needing further regulatory action are progressed without delay. For this to happen, adequate resources are required,” it said. Member states are also encouraged to collaborate with each other, while ECHA has also repeated a plea for registrants to keep their dossiers up to date.

Follow-up: ECHA announcement and report

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