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South Korean business group hits out at registration costs

One of South Korea’s largest industry associations, the Korea Employers Federation (KEF), is lobbying the government to ease K-REACH requirements over concerns the tightened regulations will damage businesses.

The KEF submitted “policy recommendations” aimed at reducing the burden of K-REACH on business to several ministries – including the Ministry of Environment (MoE) – on 10 April. Its main concern is the cost of generating, or acquiring, substance risk and hazard data. It says that since K-REACH was enacted in 2015, some businesses have given up production because of the high costs of compliance.

The federation noted that, so far, only four substances have completed registration while the June 2018 deadline for registering 510 substances is not far away. This lack of progress, it says, is because of the excessive cost of registration, the lack of testing facilities and poor understanding of the legislation.

The federation suggests that risk assessment data should only be required if the substance is already registered and is used in annual quantities of ten tonnes or above.

Given the potential difficulties with registration, it says the proposed penalties for breaches of compliance with K-REACH should be scrapped. Under the amended K-REACH breaches can result in fines representing 5% of sales – an amount KEF says will force many companies to close.

Other KEF recommendations include:

  • the definition of acceptable data for registration should be widened to include existing data or information on hazardous substances from overseas organisations, scientific treaties or research papers;
  • only requiring information provision for registered substances;
  • government support for production of test data and provision of consulting support;
  • minimising the designation of dangerous substances; and
  • ending the requirement to register unintended spillage of substances.

In a published response, the MoE says the changes to K-REACH are necessary to improve safety and have broad support. However, it adds it will review “reasonable suggestions” from industry that improve the law.

The ministry points out the changes were drafted after canvassing public opinion, taking overseas legislation into account, and consulting other government departments and experts. Stakeholders’ opinions were also included where reasonable. But it says it will positively consider any reasonable suggestions from industry and the KEF.

The ministry’s main point is that improved chemical safety regulation was a promise made by the government to the South Korean people following the humidifier biocides incident. Some of the KEF’s proposals, it says, are therefore difficult to accept as they would “drastically limit” government policy agreed to by society as a whole.

It goes on to point out that the proposed changes are based on an investigation by a special National Assembly committee. Its report concluded there was a need to establish household chemical products safety management measures under pan-governmental cooperation, and that the registration threshold included in the current version of K-REACH is insufficient to protect public health and safety. It thus needs to be lowered to one tonne or above.

The MoE said businesses must show determination and take steps to prevent incidents similar to the humidifier biocides incident happening again. K-REACH, it says, is about industry understanding the risks posed by their chemicals so that public health can be protected from the risks inherent in exposure to chemicals.

K-REACH, says the ministry, represents “a minimum ethical and legal duty that the chemical industry must accept”.