After eight years of debate, a provisional agreement between the European Parliament, Council, and Commission hammered out November 30 sets the stage for adoption of REACH, the world’s most significant legislation on chemicals. Under REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), companies that make or import chemicals in Europe will shoulder new obligations to provide health and safety data on over 10,000 chemicals used in fabrics, cleaners, cars and other everyday products. Chemicals that are especially hazardous to human health or the environment would require explicit authorization, and could be restricted or banned.
Overall, the political agreement falls short of the expectations of most European environmental, health and consumer advocates. Europe’s REACH legislation has been steadily eroded under relentless pressure from the chemical industry and some governments, including the United States. Even so, CIEL expects that REACH will have positive effects. “Companies will compete to offer safer chemicals to the EU market,” according to Daryl Ditz, CIEL Senior Policy Advisor, “and policy makers outside Europe will feel increasing pressure to modernize their regulation of chemicals.”
The provisional agreement contains a few modest improvements over the Council’s last draft, such as greater emphasis on alternatives to toxicity testing on animals. Also, substances of very high concern (including persistent, bioaccumulative toxics) would be authorized only if no safer alternatives are available and their socio-economic benefits outweigh their risks. Unfortunately, many other dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens and those that interfere with hormones, could remain on the market so long as their risks are “adequately controlled.” Many positive amendments approved by the Parliament’s Environment Committee on October 10 were rejected in the late night negotiations. As a result, REACH is likely to offer less public access to information, a slower timeline for registration, and no attention to nanotech materials.
This tentative agreement is scheduled for a vote in the full Parliament on December 13. If adopted, the Council of Ministers are expected to adopt the text before the end of the year. Barring any unforeseen events, REACH will enter into force in 2007 and be implemented in stages over the next eleven years.