Disruption to the supply of chemicals post Brexit

Import Export ChemicalsIrish companies that use chemicals may find their supply chains severely disrupted as a result of Brexit.

Generally speaking, chemical substances or any product containing chemical substances have to be registered under the EU REACH Regulation before they can be placed on the market and used within the EU. REACH is an acronym for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of chemicals. It has a number of aims which include ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment as well as facilitating the free movement of substances and articles on the EU market while enhancing innovation and the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.


Roles and responsibilities under REACH

Under the Regulation, manufacturers of chemical substances within the EU have to register them if the amount exceeds one tonne per annum. Similarly, importers of substances or chemical products manufactured outside of the EU have to register the individual substances within them.

The Regulation is very wide ranging and covers everything from paints to printer cartridges, solvents to sealants, and computer keyboards to crayons.

Companies which purchase such products from manufacturers and importers are considered downstream users and their obligations under the Regulation are usually limited, often just to simply following the instructions for safe use that come with the product.

Many downstream users will face challenges as a result of Brexit if they currently source their chemical supplies from the UK, and once the UK becomes a third country, following the end of the transition period, they run the risk of being classified as EU importers, with all of the additional responsibilities that entails.


The sourcing challenges

The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) is the government agency responsible for REACH and a number of other EU regulations governing the supply of chemicals into the State. Yvonne Mullooly is the Assistant Chief Executive with the HSA and responsible for their chemicals mandate explains the scale of the challenge.

“There are some 12,500 registrations covering 600 different substances registered by UK legal entities,” she says. “We know in Ireland that most companies (approx. 75%) are downstream users of chemicals and many (60%) source their chemical products from the UK.  If the substances in those products were registered by a UK registrant, then that registration will cease to exist after Brexit.”

The difficulty facing those downstream users is that if the UK registrant doesn’t transfer his registrations to an EU based legal entity, the Irish company will become classified as an importer under REACH if they continue to source chemicals from the UK.

“This places quite onerous obligations on a company especially if any of those substances need to also have specific authorisations. Some substances referred to as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) which are generally only used in industrial settings may need an authorisation to use and this is a separate application process to registration.” says Mullooly

SVHCs are substances that have hazardous properties with serious consequences, such as being carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or which damage the environment.


Review the options and manage the risk

There are options open to companies which want to avoid this eventuality. “They could find an alternative supplier for the products elsewhere in the EU,” Mullooly advises. “or their UK supplier may also have put arrangements in place to have the products registrations transferred into the EU.”

Indeed, UK media reports earlier this year noted that more than 50 UK-based chemical companies had already shifted regulatory approvals from the UK to the EU.

Mullooly also pointed out that Irish chemical exporters will also need to put arrangements in place. “If they supply to the UK they will probably need to register there under UK requirements and they will need to obtain permission to clear customs if they are exporting chemicals with the substances covered by the EU Rotterdam Regulation”.


Seek expert advice

Companies with questions regarding the regulations governing chemicals should contact the HSA for assistance, Mullooly adds. “We have a chemicals help desk to assist companies with queries chemicals@hsa.ie There is also a series of fact sheets and information available through our website.”

The HSA also has responsibility for other goods for example machinery, lifts and transportable pressure equipment (TPE), and the same issue regarding the potential for Irish companies to be classified as EU importers from a third country arises.  “Machinery needs to be checked and conformity tests carried out by the manufacturer if it is placed on the EU market,” says Mullooly.

“A lot of Irish companies using UK notified bodies to carry out conformity assessments and inspections won’t be able to use these after Brexit. They will have to source alternative notified bodies from within the EU.” The Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) which is part of the HSA provides accreditation to applicant conformity assessment bodies (CABs) which test, certify and inspect products/ services. Apart from meeting the requirements of accreditation and notifying authorities, CABs must demonstrate they are permanently established in Ireland.