Mixed Reaction To EU's New Chemical Rules

In reaction to the new set of chemical rules, known as REACH, passed by the EU on Dec. 14, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) commented, " [We] encourage European officials to focus on advancing a scientific and risk-based approach to chemical use and management rather than creating a bureaucratic and onerous system." The ACC believes that the proposal "remains impractical in the plans for authorization of the use of chemicals."

The Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA) expressed its opinion that it hopes the council of ministers will take very seriously the job of strengthening the additional language pertaining to the substitution and tightening of the authorization procedures. James Cooper, senior manager, chemical policy said, "The wording was politically motivated and we hope that a compromise can be reached with Parliament in those areas."

Swedish Environment Minister Lena Sommestad said that the rules do not go far enough to safeguard health or the environment. "Sweden would have wanted thorough tests of all chemicals, through complete test programs," she said, insisting that the "exceptions weaken REACH as an all-inclusive program." Sommestad was dismayed that the agreement would require the full testing of only 3,000-4,000 of the approximately 20,000 chemicals produced in Europe in volumes of less than 10 tons. She added, "We would have wanted it to be clear that one can maintain higher levels of protection within work environment rules."

The new rules set up a system for the registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals (REACH) under which companies would have to register the manufacture of all chemicals of which more than 10 tons per year are produced EU-wide. They would also have to supply a complete data record for chemicals produced in quantities of between one and 10 tons if they are cancerous, show high levels of toxicity or are particularly hazardous in other respects. In all, some 30,000 different chemicals are produced in quantities of one ton or more per year and some 10,000 in quantities exceeding 10 tons.

"This agreement puts an end to a long period of uncertainty for industry and helps them plan for the very challenging task of meeting the new requirements. We have succeeded in making REACH more effective and more workable. And we have succeeded in maintaining the competitiveness of EU industry... reducing the burden for small and medium-sized companies," explains commission vice president Guenter Verheugen.

However the European consumers' organization, BEUC, was not pleased with the rules as passed. "BEUC is extremely disappointed by the decision taken by the council today to further water down the REACH proposal," the group's director Jim Murray said in a statement. UK Greens member, of the European Parliament, said, "This is very bad decision-making at the expense of human health and the environment."

The European Commission said it expected the measures to enter into force by the first half of 2007, with operational requirements scheduled to start from 2008 onwards. The EU chemical industry is estimated to be worth 360 billion euros (U.S. $429 billion) in annual sales, accounting for 28% of world-wide production.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005

IW staff also contributed to this story.

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