domingo, 6 de mayo de 2012

How far is Helsinki from Alonsotegi?

"Do not judge and you will not be judged"... specially when almost everybody is trying to do theirs best in an as dificult matter as REACH Regulation. And, in any case, I always try to evaluate intentions more than results.

I introduce the entry this way because the concern I am going to talk about today may be misunderstood as a critic directly launched against some members of the technical staff of European Chemical Agency (ECHA) and this is not what I mean. I have had the privilege of meet some of them, working side by side with a few, and they all are highly skilled technicians and, the most of them, very good people.

However, the main problem of the Agency is that Helsinki is far, very far away from Alosotegi... from Alosotegi and from every place where European small and medium sized enterprises try to keep their store shutters open.

On 23rd April ECHA convened a "webinar" called "Downstream User Obligation". This kind of communication tool is a great way to transmit information and guidelines from the ECHA to the industry. Is an instrument to realize that feedback, the questions and concerns of the users are taken into account. If you have a time, conect the speakers and follow the presentations. They are very instructives.

In this very ocasion, after a good amount of information, the last item was an interesting briefing called "Frequently Asked Questions; Conclusions" presented by Bridget Ginnity and Augusto Di Bastiano.

One of the questions really caught my attention. A question we have been working in AVEQ-KIMIKA for months and we haven't been able to solve...  "We supply the substance in mixtures. What should we inform customers of and how?"

Of course we have the tool. The main instrument "pre" and "post" REACH to transmit the necessary information all along the supply chain is the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) but, with REACH Regulation fully in force, it will be accompained with a new document called Exposure Scenarios (ES) describing the conditions of use of the classified chemicals subtances to ensure a safe and balanced operational conditions regarding safety, health and environment.

REACH Regulation is... What would be the appropriate word?... a little bit ¿naive? about this issue: On Article 31. Requirements for safety data sheets it just says:  "Any downstream user shall include relevant exposure scenarios, and use other relevant information, from the safety data sheet supplied to him when compiling his own safety data sheet for identified uses." "Relevant"?....  What is the scope of "relevant" in this context?... AVEQ-KIMIKA's role is to explain this question to SME.

To date we have not been able to find a balanced answer... and, therefore, the role played by the technicians of this kind of companies, in spite of all our effort, is so disproportionate, so out of scale, that the goals of all REACH system may be directly thrown to trash can and push many motivated SME to work under the law.

Suddenly, seeing the question in the presentation, we saw light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, our joy lasted very little.

The answer of ECHA to the question was, in a home made transcription: "Don't run, we are working on it. We will release a specific guide about this specific matter in the coming months but the solutions will be sure in the development of this three guidelines:

• Incorporate information on the conditions of use into the main body of the SDS

• Develop exposure scenarios for your mixtures, which describe the safe use. This replaces the exposure scenarios provided by your supplier

• Forward the supplier exposure scenario for single substances in the mixture that are relevant to your customers

Well... let's translate this advices to Alonostegi's language and  let's start by the third option: 

"Forward"... a word that is going to be very popular in coming months. Just forward?:

"One of our best selling product is a mixture, a protective coating, incorporates five chemical substances. The ES of each SDS of this five components takes, more or less, 120 pages. If we just forward our suppliers exposure scenarios to our clients by mere adition... our own attached document will take 600 pages... My average client is a freelancer painter with no more than two or three employees... What the hell is he going to do with that mess?"

Well, let's try the second one: "Develop your own exposure scenarios" 

"How long does it take to develop an ES?... we have 350 different references in our catalog. Except 10 of them, which are substances that we buy in bulk and we repack, the rest are mixtures..."

Finally, the first option: "Incorporate information on the conditions of use into the main body of the SDS" 

"Oh!, We can do that!. That's what we have been doing, more or less, for years... Let's roll up our sleeves and start with the task, we have to review 350 SDS but it may be affordable... Wait a moment, what the hell is a PROC8 and an ECETOC TRA?"

On May, 1968, the walls of the Quartier latin of Paris were covered with graffiti. One of the most cited, full of romantic spirit and revolutionary poetry says: "Soyez realiste, demandez l'impossible"... it is a great motto but it can't become the ECHA's motto.

Mr Di Bastiano, we are going to follow your advice, we are going to wait patiently until the publication of the official guide. For your part, in that guide redaction, I would ask if you could take into account that SMEs are a large percentage of European industry and that an hour of work in an SDS is a fixed cost?

Thank you for your attention and congratulations for the webinar. It was a great job.

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