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ECHA Publishes “Chemical Universe” Substances List

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December 17, 2019Scott StephensBlog

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has published a list of over 21,500 REACH registered substances, divided into five general categories, or pools, according to the regulatory actions EU chemicals management authorities are currently taking, will take, or are considering taking for them.

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As reported in 3E Monitor earlier in 2019, ECHA followed through with its plan and published the EU’s "chemical universe" on 4 December 2019. 

The list represents a mapping exercise undertaken by ECHA to provide member states and EU authorities a planning and monitoring tool to help them focus on substances of concern and to identify appropriate regulatory actions, where needed.

The listed substances have been assigned to one of five pools based on the type of regulatory action foreseen or lack thereof. The five pools are:

  1. Regulatory risk management ongoing: Substances with confirmed hazards for human health and the environment.
  2. Regulatory risk management under consideration: Substances that are currently being considered for regulatory risk management.
  3. Data generation: Substances that require additional information to conclude whether further regulatory action is needed.
  4. Currently no further actions proposed: Substances for which authorities have not proposed further regulatory action at the moment.
  5. Not yet assigned: Substances currently registered under REACH but not yet assigned to any of the other pools.

ECHA emphasizes that the agency is currently busy categorizing substances registered at volumes greater than 100 metric tons per year, with the objective to complete this task by the end of 2020. For all registered substances, ECHA is aiming at concluding this work by 2027.

Currently, over 18,000 registered substances have not yet been assigned (i.e., they fall into category 5).

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ECHA states that the chemical universe does not indicate whether a substance’s use is safe or not, but that the list’s main goal is to help authorities focus their actions.

ECHA also points out that the assignment to a particular category is not permanent - substances will move from one pool to another over time, when new information becomes available, or priorities change. In this context, ECHA emphasizes that the assignment is largely calculated using algorithms and is based on a snapshot of the data from August 2019. 

Nevertheless, the published mapping provides companies and other stakeholders additional transparency on the authorities’ work and general progress made in regulating chemicals.

Likewise, the chemical universe may prove to be a useful planning tool for companies to gain perspective about which substances EU authorities are likely to prioritize for taking regulatory action (e.g., CLH, authorization, restriction), which they will target for further investigation (i.e., through data generation requests), and which substances they will remove from further consideration.

An update of the chemical universe list is foreseen in early 2021.