Echa executive director Geert Dancet says he agrees with NGOs that a ‘significant proportion’ of REACH registration dossiers “leave a lot to be desired” – and that responsibility for this lies with member states, the European Commission and the business sector, as well as the agency itself.

Speaking yesterday at Echa’s tenth anniversary conference in Helsinki, he blamed the many possible exceptions to standard data requirements that are included in the Regulation and its annexes, as well as the fear of conducting too many tests on vertebrate animals.

He also said that the requirement that dossier completeness would be self-checked by registrants “has happened more than anticipated despite companies working in Siefs”, but that steps are being taken to improve this situation.

At the same event, European Environmental Bureau head, Jeremy Wates, said that dossiers submitted so far have been of “very poor quality”, and that the lack of a comprehensive system acknowledging “how bad the situation is” means how many non-compliant dossiers there are is not known.

Echa, he said, has been providing registrants access to market “by default”, the principle of no data, no market – as stated in REACH Article 5 – is not being applied, and the burden of proof is not being shifted to industry. “On the contrary,” he said, “member state authorities are having to complete inadequate dossiers.”

The day before the anniversary conference, NGO campaigners met Echa officials in Helsinki to try and find common ground on how to improve dossier quality.

Mr Dancet praised the collective effort by industry and regulators in registering substances under the first two deadlines in 2010 and 2013, but warned that the success or failure of REACH will be decided by how far the third deadline, in 12 month’s time, can avoid disrupting the operations of EU manufacturing industry.

The agency expects information to come in on up to 25,000 more chemicals under this deadline.

Saori Dubourg, BASF board member and chair of Cefic’s product stewardship programme council, said that REACH provides a level playing field and is “demanding but [also] balancing” in terms of compromises that stakeholders must make.

Mr Dancet said that the authorisation process – which has also been criticised by NGOs – will improve consumer confidence in the safety of the chemicals they buy in products, by “leading the way” in identifying, controlling or replacing dangerous substances “without deserting” industry.

“It requires courage from the European Commission and member states to propose restrictions or to add more substances to the authorisation list,” he said. “That is how REACH will be made a success and ultimately how Europe can effectively contribute to the world’s sustainability goals on chemicals.”