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Management and handling of chemicals

Chemicals are all around us, including in our own bodies. They are present in any product we buy, from food, clothing and cosmetics to mobile phones. Increasing production and use of chemicals, and at the same time increasing levels of knowledge and awareness of their negative impacts on health and the environment, have stimulated the widest international community to seek ways for safer production and use of chemicals and better control over them. Slovenia has also adopted a number of legal acts intended to help regulate this area in a uniform manner and reduce the risks more quickly.

Sound management of chemicals

Sound management of chemicals is aimed at preventing or, where this is not possible, minimising their harmful effects on people and the environment. Sound management includes the prevention, restriction, reduction and elimination of risks throughout the life-cycle of chemicals and the remediation of potential consequences. It covers everything from production, storage and transport to the use and disposal of waste.

Adequate legislation, effective monitoring, access to all necessary data, and proper education of and awareness on the part of both persons with responsibilities in the area and the general public are essential for the sound management of chemicals. It is imperative to possess appropriate knowledge of the use of alternative substances, best practices and best available technologies. Reliable risk assessment, effective control and the systems in place for dealing with chemical accidents are also required. All this, however, calls for sufficient resources.

 Slovenian legislation is based on and derives from the requirements and rules emerging at three international levels, i.e. the EU level, the OECD level and the highest international level (i.e. conventions, international treaties and recommendations adopted by the UN, IFCS and other international bodies or adopted in the context of bilateral or multilateral agreements between countries). These are often narrowly focused and relate to specific areas, however, so a new overarching umbrella mechanism, called the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), was adopted in Dubai in 2006 as a link between the requirements of international legal acts at the widest international level and also as an upgrading thereof.

What does the European Chemicals Agency do?

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is the driving force among regulatory authorities in implementing the EU’s chemicals legislation. It helps companies to comply with the legislation, advances the safe use of chemicals, provides information on chemicals and addresses chemicals of concern. It also collects information on chemicals that industry is obliged to provide. It publishes data on registered chemicals and their classification and labelling on its website. Chemical safety data are assessed and, for example, verified in terms of which chemicals are widely used in such a way as to entail potential exposure of consumers or workers to their effects. The ECHA cooperates with Member States and the European Commission in managing the risks posed by hazardous chemicals.

Safety is also the responsibility of companies

In addition to the authorities, the safety of chemicals is also the responsibility of companies. In the EU, companies that produce or import chemicals must ensure that the use of their chemicals is safe. If they wish to sell them in the EU, they must first register them with the ECHA and provide information on their hazardous properties and instructions for their safe use. Consumers in the supply chain must be informed of any dangerous properties of such products and about their safe handling. If a chemical cannot be used safely, the authorities may restrict or prohibit its use. This forces companies to replace the most dangerous chemicals with safer ones.