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Member States Launch SVHC Project “Ask REACH” to Raise Consumer Awareness of Hazardous Chemicals in Consumer Products

The German Federal Environment Agency (the UBA), in cooperation with 19 other entities in 12 EU Member States, intends to raise awareness on Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) in consumer articles throughout the EU. Hong Kong traders should know that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) defines SVHCs as “substances that may have serious and often irreversible effects on human health and the environment”. These include carcinogenic substances, endocrine disruptors or substances deemed of high concern for the environment.

The project, which is called “Ask REACH”, aims to help consumers identify and avoid products containing SVHCs and to make use of their right, established under the REACH Regulation, to be informed about hazardous chemicals contained in products they intend to purchase. The project “Ask REACH” is aimed at the general population, retailers and industry.

The objective of the project on the consumer’s side is to raise consumer awareness and enable consumers to make responsible purchasing decisions. On the supplier’s side, which may be of interest to Hong Kong traders, it aims to raise supplier awareness and to facilitate compliance with information obligations under the REACH Regulation.

Article 33(1) of the REACH Regulation requires that a supplier of articles containing an SVHC that is found on ECHA’s Candidate List of SVHCs in a concentration above 0.1% has to provide relevant safety information to the recipients of these articles. Upon the request of a consumer, the same supplier has to provide relevant safety information about the SVHC available to him also to this consumer (Article 33(2) of REACH). This obligation applies irrespective of the tonnage of the substance used and also applies to imported articles. Importers and producers of articles have to, under certain conditions, notify ECHA if their articles contain Candidate List substances (as per Article 7 of REACH).

The ultimate goal of “Ask REACH” is to substitute SVHCs in ‘articles’ (which are essentially semi-finished or finished products including electronic components and goods, toys, textiles, footwear and furniture) altogether.

To this purpose, the project’s partners (authorities, scientific institutions and non-governmental consumer and environmental organisations throughout Europe) will develop a database which will contain information on SVHCs in articles. Suppliers and producers will enter their product data into the database.

Via a smartphone application (app), consumers will be able to connect to that database and receive information on SVHCs or send requests for information to suppliers if the requested data is not yet available. The app can be adapted to all EU languages.

The project will be flanked by two awareness-raising campaigns in the participating Member States (Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Luxemburg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden).

“Ask REACH” is funded by the EU’s LIFE programme. This programme is the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU.

This will be the first attempt at this scale to create such an app although several initiatives are already in place at national levels. In Germany, for example, there is the UBA’s app “Scan4Chem” or the German Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation’s “ToxFox” app.

However, until now, these apps are limited in their scope, focusing only on a particular product range, like cosmetics or children’s toys, and are not connected to a database. Instead, they send an automatically generated information request to the producer, who must reply within 45 days. “Ask REACH”, on the other hand, aims to provide the requested information instantaneously.

The project has started on 1 September 2017 and is scheduled to run for five years. Its first results are expected to be available in March 2018.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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