Echa head Bjorn Hansen has told MEPs that he is committed to improving efforts on REACH registration compliance issues.
His statement came in an annual exchange of views with members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee on 8 November.
The discussion centered around a recent German project that checked 3,800 REACH dossiers and found that 32% for substances at tonnage levels of 1,000tpa and above were non-compliant.
Mr Hansen said Echa is "concerned" about the results of the study and the agency "will step up" to address them.
Echa conducts compliance checks and has done "a lot of work" in this area, he said. "But I clearly and totally subscribe to [the view] it is not sufficient."
The agency has so far looked at 700 substances. Of those, two-thirds needed further data, he added. Echa’s approach, he went on, is not to randomly select substances, but to choose chemicals where there is a higher likelihood of non-compliance.
Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout said it was time that Echa took action "showing your urgency and your concern". People are not necessarily saying chemicals are unsafe, he added, but "the problem is we don’t know – and these are the high volume chemicals. This is around 95% of the volume of the chemicals on the European market."
Echa must "start very clearly communicating" what action has been taken and explain why certain chemicals are still on the market, he said.
If after 10 years, the conclusion is that one-third of the dossiers are incomplete, "then Echa is failing. Very simple." Mr Eickhout questioned how many dossiers had been revoked in that time. "Four? Five? That’s far less than if you really did a proper check."
Polish MEP Bolesław Piecha called for more transparency and suggested that information should be made public about non-compliant companies. He conceded it is a "delicate" issue but it is of "utmost importance" for Echa to be credible and show it is working for the benefit of both humans and the environment.
In reply Mr Hansen said "you have a commitment from me. We will do more. We will put more efforts into compliance." Exactly how that is going to transpire in terms of numbers of dossiers, he added, "is difficult to say at the moment".
French MEP Michèle Rivasi noted that the REACH regulation says Echa must analyse 5% of submissions. "You need to increase that," she said. "It can’t just be 5% – we need 100%. More money and more experts may be required. "Give me a figure," she said. "We need hard facts."
Echa needs to make any improvements immediately, she added. "You need to say to member states ‘this is what we need; these are the resources we need. These are the improvements that can be made.’ It’s pretty critical isn’t it?"
One full-time equivalent staff member can undertake about five dossier compliance checks in one year, Mr Hansen said. It would require "many, many years" to check all registrations up front, he added, and that instead the agency decided "to ex-poste check the compliance".
The system, he said, is set up for the companies to stay on the market. "They are not illegally on the market," he said. "The system is set up so all these dossiers are complete, but a high fraction are not compliant."
The agency’s current target is to check 200 dossiers a year, he said, although "we are going more in the direction" of 200 substances.
"What I’m looking at is an acceleration of these efforts. But I would dare to say that if we find 200 substances that cover 30% of the volume on the market then it’s better than doing 300 substances that only cover 5% of the volume on the market."
Echa and the Commission are in discussions about the issue of resources and financing, Mr Hansen said.