Hazardous substances: European judges strengthen right to information about hazardous substances in articles

In a landmark decision, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has massively strengthened the right of consumers to obtain information about dangerous substances in products. The court ruled that the obligation on manufacturers to inform their customers and consumers if an article contains more than 0.1 percent by mass of a substance of very high concern (SVHC) also applies when the product is incorporated into a more complex product.

There had been a long-time dispute about the application of the 0.1 mass percent limit between the European Commission, the European Chemicals Agency ECHA and the majority of Member States on the one side and a minority of Member States, including Germany, on the other. The majority opinion argued that the concentration limit in complex products is only based on the product as a whole. Thus, for example, the obligation to provide information about the fact that a bicycle handle contains a carcinogenic plastic softener would cease as soon as the handle was mounted on the handlebar, because now the concentration limit – referring to the whole mounted handlebar with its considerably larger mass – would fall below 0.1 percent.

Germany together with France, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Belgium and Norway represented the opinion that the concentration limit applies to each component of a complex product that represents an article. Thus, the information about the contamination of the bike handle has to be passed through the entire supply chain, from the manufacturer of the handle to the eventual buyer of the bicycle.
Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks: "With its judgment, the ECJ has clearly underlined the objectives of EU chemicals policy, the protection of human health and the environment. At the same time, the judgment contributes to the smooth functioning of the internal market. Transparency about the presence of SVHCs throughout the supply chain improves the opportunities for companies to avoid these substances in their products and also creates market incentives for the necessary changes."

More on the subject

Transparency about SVHCs which possibly not only hide in hazardous materials (hazardous substances), but also in everyday products such as textiles, toys or household appliances, is an important objective of the European Chemicals Regulation REACH which regulates the registration and authorization of chemicals. The Federal Bureau of Chemicals has released brochures with many practical examples which show affected traders how even a supplier of particularly complex composite products can meet his information obligations. The brochure REACH-INFO No. 6 about products – which also contains the quick guide "Once Product - Always Product" – can be downloaded from the REACH Helpdesk website: