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Chemicals are everywhere and are an essential component of our daily lives. At the same time, some chemicals can severely damage our health. Others can be dangerous if not properly used. There is a worrying increase in health problems that can be partially explained by the use of chemicals. Some man-made chemicals are found in the most remote places in the environment, but also in animals and humans.

In the mid 1990s, the increased insight into the possible negative effect of chemicals led to the awareness that the EU legislation then in force did not and could not provide sufficient information about chemicals to judge scientifically. The EU was on an unsustainable course in the chemicals sector. Starting in the late 1990s and causing considerable debate, new horizontal chemicals legislation was developed and in 2007 REACH entered into force.

REACH's primary aim is 'to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment'. In the coming decade, REACH will place the burden of proof on industry, which has to collect or generate the data necessary to ensure the safe use of chemicals. This data will be publicly available through the central database held at the European Chemicals Agency and will help to close the current information gap on chemicals. REACH also provides rules for phasing out and substituting the most dangerous chemicals.

REACH is complemented by the new Regulation for Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures (CLP Regulation, January 2009). This Regulation incorporates the classification criteria and labelling rules agreed at UN level, the so-called Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). This is based on the principle that the same hazards should be described and labelled in the same way all around the world. The use of internationally agreed classification criteria and labelling elements is expected to facilitate trade and contribute towards global efforts to protect humans and the environment from the hazardous effects of chemicals.

Rijkswaterstaat supports the Dutch government (Department of the Environment and Department of Public Health) in the implementation of the REACH and CLP Regulation. The Agency is also one of the partners of the National Helpdesks. Besides these activities, the Agency also participates in European projects transferring knowledge to other EU or non-EU countries. See an overview of the projects on the right side of this webpage.