Scientists know that while the end-products they develop need to be safe for use, often the research and development path is not. Sometimes toxic chemical mixtures and compounds are used to create the final product or drive the experiment methodology. It may be the nature of the beast, so to speak, but one of the goals of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and its REACH regulation is to encourage green alternatives wherever possible, reduce toxic chemicals in the EU, and drive chemical safety.
The fifth Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) is ECHA's forum for presenting topics related to REACH. This year HCF 2013 highlighted panels on the sound international management of chemicals; chemicals in products; regulation of nano-materials; lists of chemicals of concern; and, combination effects. HCF 2013 was held at the Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre from 18-19 June 2013.
Presentations were given by representatives from international chemical industry organizations and authorities, such as CEFIC, CIEL, the European Commission, OECD, ECHA, Environment Canada, and the American Chemistry Council. Panel discussions were usually lively and sometimes heated as panelists emphasized various points of view.
"What is very important to me," stated Geert Dancet, "is that everyone is moving toward the same standards and methods so that ultimately we can start dividing the work. At the moment there is no real division of work, so that every country has to identify which chemicals it wants to regulate. If we would have common standards for hazards and risks and risk management, then we could start dividing the work."
For the first time, a delegate detailed the status of current Chinese toxic chemical regulations. Yunbo Siu, Managing Director, Chemical Inspection and Regulation Service Ltd CIRS/Ireland, presented China's developing environmental approach from pollution treatment to source elimination. He outlined China's five-year plan on chemical environmental risk prevention and control that is currently underway, and addressed the mind-set that needs to be changed in order to successfully implement this plan. Currently China has listed some 158 toxic chemicals that are restricted for import/export under their first Priority Hazardous Chemicals (PHC) list and is evaluating other substances for inclusion. The audience was favorably impressed by the scope and speed with which China is addressing their environmental challenges.
North American regulatory agencies and organizations were represented by Michael Walls, Vice President of the American Chemistry Council; Eeva Leinala, Senior Manager at Health Canada; and, Jake Sanderson, Manager, Environment Canada. Changes to US and Canadian toxic chemical regulations and how those resemble and dovetail with European standards and regulations played a part in discussions of sound international management of chemicals.
Next year, the Helsinki Chemicals Forum will be held from 22-23 May 2014 in Helsinki, Finland.