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March 12, 2012

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Nanomaterials slipping through the REACH net

The European Union’s primary regulatory framework for chemicals is failing to identify or control nanomaterials, according to a report by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

Nanomaterials are tiny man-made particles with special properties, and are increasingly used in cosmetics, clothing, consumer electronics, and other products.

The CIEL study identifies four weaknesses in relation to processing nanomaterials at the REACH registration phase – an essential step that requires chemical manufacturers and importers to provide key health and safety information.

The four gaps in the process, according to the report, are:

  • REACH does not define nanomaterials, and contains no nano-specific provisions;
  • Most nanomaterials evade registration until 2018, yet they can still enter the EU market;
  • REACH’s schedule for registration focuses on the number of tonnes of a chemical, and, as nanomaterials are generally produced in far smaller quantities, it is not set up to monitor these substances; and
  • REACH test guidelines fail to consider the special properties of nanomaterials.

Author of the report, David Azoulay of the CIEL, said: “Three years ago, the [European] Commission declared that REACH theoretically covered nanomaterials; but they continue to enter the EU market with little or no information on their potential risks, violating REACH’s ‘no data, no market’ principle. The problem is that the regulation contains legal gaps and shortcomings that render it completely ineffective for nanomaterials.”

The report also explores possible remedies to close these loopholes. Rather than re-formulating REACH, the report proposes developing a standalone regulation, carefully aligned with the chemical rules, but specifically tailored to nanomaterials. Such a regulation would establish clear, legally binding provisions for nanomaterials and create a transparent and reliable legal environment for the safe production and use of nanomaterials in the EU, says the report.

Added Azoulay: “REACH could prove a useful instrument to better understand and regulate nanomaterials, provided it is coupled with a nano ‘patch’ that closes these inherent loopholes.

“Flexibility must be a critical characteristic of any effort to regulate nanomaterials. Our understanding is still very limited; it will evolve, and our legal responses must be ready to do so as well. A ‘nano-patch’ for REACH would provide that added flexibility.”

The report, ‘Just out of REACH: How REACH is failing to regulate nanomaterials and how it can be fixed’ is available at:

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