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EU Inspections Project Announced, Focusing on Online Sales of Hazardous Substances and Consumer Goods Containing Them

The Forum for Exchange of Information on Enforcement (the Forum) has recently held its 30th meeting where it announced its eighth enforcement project. The project is notable, as it will focus on online sales of substances, mixtures and articles.

Moreover, the Forum agreed the timeline for inspections for its pilot project on chromium VI compounds and discussed the progress of its REF-5 project concerning exposure scenarios, extended safety data sheets, risk management measures and operational conditions.

As Hong Kong producers and manufacturers exporting to the EU may be aware, the Forum is a network of authorities responsible for the enforcement of the REACH, the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) and the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Regulations in the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The Forum organises REF-projects which are carried out by inspectors based in the national authorities of the participating Member States. The resulting information is collected by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the Forum Working Group, with the findings ultimately published in a final report. While the main objective of the REF-projects is to improve the quality of enforcement in the Member States, they also focus on improving the compliance of registrants with the REACH, CLP and PIC Regulations.

Firstly, and of highest relevance to Hong Kong sellers, the Forum announced its eighth major enforcement project (REF-8). REF-8 will focus on online sales of substances, mixtures and articles. This issue came to the fore due to the rise in internet sales of mixtures classified as hazardous and the fact that EU cooperation in inspecting internet sales is essential as the customers of a website can be based in any of the Member States. Moreover, the Forum has decided to focus on this issue due to the high rate of non-compliance detected in the Forum’s 2017 pilot project on internet sales, which aimed to check whether advertisements of hazardous chemical mixtures offered for sale on the internet comply with the requirements of the CLP Regulation. In this regard, the CLP requires that an advertisement for a mixture classified as hazardous has to mention the hazard indicated on the label, if the mixture can be purchased (e.g., online) without first seeing the label.

Specifically, the project found that 1,083 (82.4%) of inspected internet advertisements for hazardous chemicals lacked the required warning and thus were non-compliant with the CLP Regulation. Moreover, in 83.3% of non-compliant cases, no information was provided on hazard statements and/or supplementary statements.

While the exact scope of the new REF-8 is yet to be defined, it is expected that the enforcement project will include the checking of restrictions of banned substances in everyday consumer goods. Hong Kong sellers may already know, for example, that a number of phthalates are banned in toys sold to EU consumers, or that cadmium is banned in different types of plastics. Such restrictions, which extend to 68 substances at last count, are laid out in Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation. The project will also likely include the checking of labelling duties for hazardous chemicals.

In terms of its timeline, the project will be prepared in 2019 and carried out in 2020, with the report expected to be published by the end of 2021. However, precise information regarding the inspection period is not available as yet.

Secondly, the Forum decided that inspections for its pilot project on authorisation focusing on chromium VI compounds and other substances will take place in 2020. This project was launched at the Forum’s 29th meeting in March 2018 and aims to investigate whether the substances within the scope of the project are placed on the market and/or used according to a valid authorisation. Hong Kong sellers may already know that, under the REACH Regulation, authorisations are only required for substances (currently numbering 43) that are banned for sale or for use in the EU. These substances are listed in Annex XIV of the REACH Regulation. Once a ban sets in, companies (and their downstream users) may only sell or use the relevant substance on the basis of a specific authorisation furnished to them.

The 2020 timeline set by the Forum allows inspectors to target more substances and gives downstream users sufficient time to notify their authorised uses to ECHA. Hong Kong producers and manufacturers should note that while the inspectors will target companies that are using substances of concern without the required authorisation, they will also verify that authorisation holders and their downstream users are complying with the conditions of the authorisation decision.

Finally, the Forum members discussed the REF-5 project on exposure scenarios, extended safety data sheets, the implementation of risk management measures and operational conditions. REF-5 was adopted by the Forum at the end of 2015, with inspections taking place in January 2017. One of the main objectives of this enforcement project was to ensure that workers handling hazardous chemicals, especially those dealing with substances of very high concern (SVHCs), receive sufficient and correct safety information. Moreover, the project aimed to map how effectively extended safety data sheets are passed on and communicated all the way through the supply chain, i.e., from manufacturers of chemicals to their users. Safety data sheets are required to be passed down the supply chain in the case of, for example, substances that are listed on the REACH Candidate List of SVHCs (or mixtures containing them).

The results of the REF-5 project will be presented at the Forum-31 open session for stakeholders which will take place on 14 November 2018 in Brussels. The final report, which is currently being prepared, will be published by the end of 2018.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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