December 14, 2006 in Nation/World

European Parliament passes anti-chemical law

Marla Cone Los Angeles Times

The European Parliament on Wednesday approved the world’s most stringent law aimed at protecting people and the environment from thousands of toxic chemicals – legislation that will have a far-reaching effect on industries and products worldwide, including in the United States.

The new law, which regulates about 30,000 toxic substances, is far more restrictive and comprehensive than existing U.S. regulations. The most hazardous – an estimated 1,500 – could be banned or restricted. Included on that list are some compounds used in electronics, furniture, toys, cosmetics and other everyday items.

The Parliament’s vote came after seven years of review and contentious debate. The legislation, while adamantly opposed by U.S. industry and the Bush administration, was not as strong as some European political parties had sought.

Still, environmental activists in the United States were thrilled, saying that the U.S. has fallen behind in regulating chemicals and predicting that Europe’s law will lead to safer products on both sides of the Atlantic.

Called REACH – Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals – the legislation is intended to force industries to register chemicals and submit health and safety data, replace the most hazardous ones with safer alternatives, and replace 40 existing European Union rules with a comprehensive program. A new European Chemicals Agency, based in Helsinki, Finland, will become a central regulatory authority.

The law will take effect in June and be phased in over 11 years. It must be approved next week by the European Council, which represents the EU’s 25 nations, but that is considered a technicality since it was Parliament’s approval that was in question.

The U.S. chemical industry, which is the global leader in chemical production, had battled the proposal for years, calling it costly and bureaucratic.

“This will have a huge impact well beyond the chemical industry,” said Steven Russell, senior director of the American Chemistry Council, which represents Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil, Procter & Gamble and other companies that produce chemicals, one of the nation’s leading exports.

“REACH does not limit its provisions to trade in chemicals, but also trade in products, from airplanes to adhesive tape. It applies equally to products made in Europe and products made outside Europe.”

Nevertheless, Russell said, “the U.S. chemical industry is going to focus quickly and smartly on getting the job done. Our customers need our products, and we have a strong motivation to continue to supply them.”

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