Onwards and upwards: South Korea and Turkey advance their REACH-like policies

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

This summer we saw a flurry of activity surrounding our own chemical safety legislation, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); international reform efforts have been just as busy. In this blog post, we’ll discuss recent developments in toxic chemicals management in South Korea and Turkey. As apparent in our recent post on new Chinese regulations, these developments are notable because of their alignment with the EU’s REACH legislation. 

South Korea

Korea REACH moves forward. We’ve previously reported on South Korea’s draft “Act on the Registration and Evaluation of Chemicals,” originally released for public comment in February of 2011. During a Chemical Watch webinar in June of this year, Dr. Hyunpyo Jeon of the Korean Institute of Science and Technology in Europe reported that the draft Act will move forward (subscription and password required). The draft Act, appropriately titled “Korea REACH”, has incorporated some revisions since last year’s public comment period that have relaxed some of the requirements on domestic manufacturers and importers (Chemical Watch, subscription required):

  • Reporting of the production and import volume of chemicals will be required every two years instead of annually.
  • A requirement to pre-register priority existing substances has been dropped.
  • The minimum tonnage for registration of an imported or manufactured substance has been raised from 0.5 to 1.0 metric ton per year (now identical to the EU’s REACH threshold).

Dr. Jeon also stated that the draft is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly in September and to take effect in 2015. The first of three staggered registration deadlines (as with REACH, based on production or import volume) is slated for 2016, with the next two deadlines coming in 2019 and 2022.

The U.S. chemical industry seeks to weaken requirements. While the chemical industry has called these revisions “incremental improvements” to the initial draft, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other industry players continue to call for South Korea to take a different path than REACH (Chemical Watch, subscription required). These critics are advocating for an approach that would only require chemicals already known to be the most dangerous to be registered, thereby limiting the amount of hazard and exposure data they would be required to collect (Chemical Watch, subscription required).

This approach would seek to prioritize substances based on the very limited information currently available, without also collecting adequate information to confidently characterize all chemicals, which is an issue that we continue to fight under our own legislation in the U.S. (see here, here and here)  It also means that ACC is not only seeking to delay and weaken chemical legislation here at home, but also internationally. 

Nonetheless, South Korea’s initiative is just one more example of the staying power that REACH-like legislation has assumed globally. As other countries continue to strengthen their own legislation, the U.S. chemical industry may find that accepting stronger regulation in the U.S. becomes the path of least resistance, one that would make global compliance easier.

Turkey

Turkey releases first priority list of hazardous substances. Turkey’s Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning (MoEU) recently published the country’s first list of priority substances for assessment, under authority of the 2008 “Regulation on the Inventory and Control of Chemicals” (Chemical Watch, subscription required).  Last year, we blogged both about the regulation and the March 2011 deadline for companies to submit notifications on new and existing substances; the priority list was created to accelerate the assessment process of notified chemicals. Turkey’s list contains 131 chemicals and is similar to ECHA’s Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) under REACH. The priority chemicals in Turkey were identified based on “their potential hazards posed to human health and the environment” (Chemical Watch, subscription required), and substances considered to be Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or Reproductive toxicants (CMR) were given particular priority by the MoEU.

How do the chemicals on Turkey’s priority list overlap with the chemicals in commerce in the U.S.?  We used a table of the priority list chemicals available here to discern the following comparisons.

  • 122 (93%) of the substances appear on the public portion of the U.S. TSCA Inventory.
  • 117 (89%) of the chemicals were publicly reported in the 2006 Inventory Update Reporting (IUR) cycle, which means these chemicals were manufactured in the U.S. in 2005 in amounts of 25,000 pounds or more per site.

Clearly, most of the chemicals that Turkey has identified as a concern are being actively manufactured or imported in the U.S.  Now let’s look at how these chemicals overlap with chemicals subject to regulatory or other actions in the EU and here in the U.S.

  • The EU has collected dossiers on at least 118 of these chemicals via REACH registration under the first registration deadline.
  • 24 chemicals are on the REACH Candidate List of SVHCs, which ECHA selected based on concerns to human health or the environment.
  • 11 chemicals are on ECHA’s Authorisation list (Annex XIV); these are the most serious SVHCs, which will only be able to produced or imported for uses for which ECHA grants specific authorization.
  • 15 of these chemicals are on EPA’s list of 83 TSCA Work Plan Chemicals, which EPA has prioritized for risk assessments.

These statistics show that virtually equal numbers of chemicals on Turkey’s priority list are active in commerce in the U.S. and the EU.  What differs is that the EU has subjected nearly all of them to regulatory action, ranging from requiring their registration to subjecting them to authorization.  Outside of the U.S., it is increasingly apparent that many countries are identifying the same groups of chemicals for regulatory action, whereas in the U.S. only a small number of these chemicals have received scrutiny, largely due to the limitations on EPA’s authority under TSCA.

Conclusion

Our blog frequently takes a look at the increasing number of chemical management policies and practices being adopted by other countries that are falling in line with REACH; it seems that the U.S. chemical industry is taking note of this growing global trend as well. In light of their largely negative reaction towards Korea’s plan, perhaps they should also take note of a positive aspect of REACH that is becoming increasingly recognized:  the uptick in innovation “related to health, safety and environmental protection” that it is sparking. Without true TSCA reform at home, we risk falling behind as other countries innovate their chemicals industries towards ensuring the safety of their citizens and environment.

 

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