Saturday, November 01, 2003

European Commission REACHES Compromise Agreement on Chemical Policy

As expected, the European Commission issued its proposal to overhaul the way Europe tests and approves potentially hazardous chemicals.
If adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the REACH policy — Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals — will be the world's most comprehensive regulation governing the use of chemicals. It would have major effects on American industries that sell a variety of products in Europe, from computers to pesticides, and the Bush administration and U.S. chemical industry have joined forces to campaign against it
As I've written before (most recently here and here) this system would overturn the chemical approval system which currently considers chemicals innocent until proven guilty. As in the U.S., current policy requires new chemicals to undergo comprehensive testing, but existing hazardous chemicals are extremely difficult to restrict.
One in every five high-volume chemicals lacks even basic toxicity data, while only 14% have good data, said Finn Bro-Rasmussen, professor emeritus of Technical University of Denmark. He estimated that almost half should be classified as hazardous. The authorization process is the most worrisome part of the proposal for U.S. industries. European Union officials estimate that 300 to 600 compounds would be withdrawn from commerce.
The proposal, already a product of compromise, still has many hurdles to overcome before it is finalized. According to the NY Times,
In a sign of the hurdles still facing the proposed legislation - which now must wend its way through a lengthy approval process in the European Parliament - environmental advocates accused the commission of caving to industry, saying the proposal does not go far enough in eliminating health risks.

Some chemicals companies in the multibillion euro industry, meanwhile, said the proposal would heap red tape and hefty expenses on them without providing any benefit to consumers or the environment.

The plan also met with resistance from Britain, France and Germany, homes to some of union's biggest chemicals companies. These countries have already expressed concern about the proposed legislation on the industry, according to a European diplomat.
The American Chemical Council declared itself "unimpressed" with the compromises made in the final proposal and warned of a trade war:
“Kafka would have been proud of the EU process. The Commissioners have said they want to create an efficient, workable and cost-effective system, but the present proposal is none of these, and they asked stakeholders for their opinion, which they immediately ignored,” said ACC President and CEO Greg Lebedev. “A few tweaks do not change a fundamentally flawed proposal.”
In tones vaguely reminiscent of the 1990's when American industry and Republicans in Congress called for repeated studies in order to slow OSHA's ergonomics and tuberculosis standards, Lebedev as called for a "a legitimate study of the impact of this proposal before the EU plunges headlong into a complicated new regulatory scheme that will confound its global trading partners.”

Lebedev might want to consult his own webpage which links the European Commission's Impact Analysis of the Revised REACH Proposal.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, on the other hand "voted 10-1 on Oct. 28 to adopt a resolution supporting a proposed European Union law to control hazardous chemicals."
"San Francisco recently became the first city in the nation to adopt the Precautionary Principle as a guidepost for city policy," according to San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick. "Now by supporting REACH we can take another step forward in protecting our communities from toxics chemicals."