Flood of pre-registrations expected for 1 December deadline

Thousands of companies are expected this weekend to be scrambling to pre-register their chemicals with the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), so that they can continue to sell them in the European Union after a deadline of midnight on Monday (December 1).   

The last-minute race to pre-register substances has raised fears that ECHA’s computer system for the process, called Reach-IT, might not be able to cope, forcing many companies to miss the deadline. But observers and ECHA officials are confident that the agency will deal with a potential surge in data submissions over the next few days.   

"We’ve been watching the pre-registration process very closely and it looks like the agency should now be able to cope" - Sunanda Banerjee, Cefic

Pre-registration, which requires companies to give brief details of each of its chemicals with data on the manufacturer or importer, is a key first component of the EU’s massive Reach scheme for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals, covering an estimated 30,000 substances with an annual output of 1 tonne or more. A chemical which has not been pre-registered by December 1 cannot stay on the market.    

In June 2008 the European Commission and the ECHA, which operates Reach, expected around 200,000 pre-registrations from companies - but by 25 November the total had reached 1.8 million, due in part to uncertainties about which chemicals had to be registered, and because the numbers of imported substances were underestimated. Some companies also pre-registered substances they didn’t sell, in case they decided to in later years. 

Such huge demand, allied with embarrassing technical glitches when the pre-registration process began six months ago, saw the system off to a slow start. This resulted in a pre-registration rate of only 3,000-4,000 a week, compared to an average of around 200,000 in November. 

Normal service resumed

But the ECHA has over the last few weeks increased the capacity of the Reach-IT system, and has a back-up plan allowing companies to use a separate web form, should the system crash.   

These efforts have soothed the concerns of chemical trade associations.  ’We’ve been watching the pre-registration process very closely and it looks like the agency should now be able to cope,’ says Sunanda Banerjee, communicator on Reach matters at the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic). ’They have the fallback plan but right now we don’t think they will have any major problems. There’s always the possibility something will go wrong. But we are now more confident that ECHA will get it right.’

’Reach-IT has improved over the last week although it is still fairly slow,’ agrees John Mugford, regulatory affairs manager at Whyte Chemicals, a UK-based chemical distributor, which has so far pre-registered 3,000 substances. ’We are currently double-checking with suppliers to see that everything is being pre-registered. We are going to be alright. It is those who have left it very late who will be struggling.’

 ’Access into Reach-IT has been a lot better recently after the agency added extra capacity,’ agrees Jo Lloyd, technical director at REACHReady, a service set up by the UK Chemical Industries Association. ’We’ve been getting a lot less calls from companies having problems with the system. Our advice is pre-register as soon as possible but there are likely to be an awful lot of companies banking on being able to do it at the last minute,’ she adds.   

’Even those companies that leave it that late should be OK. They may not get a pre-registration number but as long as they get the form showing they’ve submitted their pre-registration data they will be alright.’ 

Since the 1 December deadline is written into the text of the Reach legislation, it cannot be extended without the approval of the Council of Ministers, representing the governments of EU’s 27 members states, and the European Parliament.     

Sean Milmo