EU Proposes Overhaul of Chemical Regulation

The European Union today proposed a new system for registering, evaluating and authorizing chemicals used in commerce and consumer products. While environmentalists hailed the proposal, the chemical industry warned it could have dire economic consequences.

At the heart of the draft legislation, which would replace 40 existing directives and regulations, is REACH, or Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, which would be phased in over a 11-year period. REACH would require that all chemicals marketed over 1 ton per year be assessed for their risks. The tightest controls would be imposed on "carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxicants (CMRs), persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs) and very persistent and very bioaccumulative substances (vPvBs)," according to the EU, as well as certain other substances, such as those that produce endocrine disruption effects.

The EU estimates that about 80 percent of all substances would only have to be registered, while the remaining 20 percent will have to undergo new testing for safety and subsequent authorization.

The proposed legislation would create a new chemicals agency to manage REACH, including the maintenance of a new publicly accessible database containing non-confidential testing data.

EU officials said the legislation was designed to "increase the protection of human health and the environment from exposure to chemicals while at the same time "maintain(ing) and enhanc(ing) the competitiveness and innovative capability of the EU chemicals industry."

Environmentalists in the United States hailed what one called a "common-sense approach to managing the use of toxic substances." Daryl Ditz, senior program officer at the World Wildlife Fund's U.S. Toxics Programs, said REACH "has the potential to transform the global playing field, demanding greater accountability from industry and rewarding companies that offer safer products."

Last week, however, in a speech at the 2003 Global Chemicals Regulations Conference, Greg Lebedev, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, called the proposal "a one-size-fits-all approach that is unwieldy, confusing and insensitive to economic reality." He warned of the "possibility that otherwise safe products that have been regularly coming to market could disappear altogether or be delayed by the fog of this emerging regulatory regime."

The proposal has been made available on the internet for feedback during the next eight weeks at http://europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/chemicals/index.htm.

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