What Impact Will REACH Have on Consumer Protection?


  • Peter Bormann
  • Dag Kappes
  • Paul Odermatt
  • Eva Reinhard




Chemicals policy, Consumer protection, Product register, Reach, Swiss toxicity law


In the last decades, several regulatory approaches have been taken in order to ensure the safe management of chemicals. The major drawback of the current EU and Swiss legislations is the distinction made between so-called 'existing' and 'new' chemicals, based on their time of marketing. While all new chemicals have to be tested for potential harmful effects to human health and the environment, there exist no similar requirements for the approximately 30'000 existing chemicals found on the market. Considering that 26% of existing and 60% of new chemicals that have been so far officially assessed and listed in Annex I of Directive 67/548/EEC, have irritating and/or sensitizing effects, it has to be assumed that several thousand chemicals consumers are exposed to are not appropriately labelled with respect to potential risks. REACH is intended to create a system which is based on information about all chemicals. Especially for chemicals marketed at high quantities REACH will indeed improve the current situation and eliminate safety gaps. Chemicals marketed at lower quantities, however, will not be subject to equally profound assessments. It remains to be seen whether substance-tailored requirements will compensate for the weaknesses of a quantity-based safety and information system, especially in respect to consumer protection. REACH will generate a lot of knowledge, some of which will be publicly available. However, the newly created knowledge refers mostly to substances. No central database containing information about products on the market, in particular their compositions, is planed. Crucially, major parts of risk assessments and identifications will be performed by industry that therefore has to take a major responsibility onboard. The success of REACH will depend on the way the private sector will manage this important safety system and whether consumers and other stakeholders can build up trust and confidence. The former Swiss Toxicity Law outmatched the current legislation and REACH in several aspects. It did not distinguish between existing and new chemicals. The main responsibility was clearly placed on the authorities, building up trust among all stakeholders, including the public. The marketing of products was mainly dependent on their toxicity. The enforcement was strictly controlled which generally led to substitutions of toxic substances with less toxic ones, especially in consumer products. However, maintaining a nation-specific regulation in today's global marketplace proved to be inappropriate. Therefore, in 2005 Switzerland adopted a new legislation largely harmonized with the specific EU-Directives. REACH forces Switzerland once again to reconsider its legislation.




How to Cite

P. Bormann, D. Kappes, P. Odermatt, E. Reinhard, Chimia 2006, 60, 651, DOI: 10.2533/chimia.2006.651.