The Byzantine piece of law that is the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) officially comes on line today with the opening of the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki.

The agency will conduct the screening process for the vast array of household and industrial chemicals which will need to be checked for safety then registered under the new laws.

In keeping with the lengthy timeframe which seems to accompany all thing REACH related, the agency will not be accepting registrations until June 2008.

The law itself has taken over four years to write and get through the European Parliament as politicians have tried to complete the difficult task of balancing environmental and health protection against the commercial and practical realities of regulating a class of substances which is all-pervasive.

Industrial groups have accepted the final format as workable, while environmentalists have expressed disappointment that it does not go far enough.

The European Chemical Industry Council, CEFIC, issued a statement saying: “It would be unrealistic of anyone to expect all aspects of REACH to work perfectly from Day 1 but that cannot be an excuse – we have to make it work and that will require joint efforts of the industry, the Commission, the new European Chemicals Agency and the national competent authorities to find solutions to problems as they arise and to ensure that learning and good practice is quickly shared.”

In the UK, Jeff Rooker, Minister of Sustainable Farming and Food said: “REACH is an important step forward. It is good news for the environment and health, and it should also assist industry.

“But industry needs to make sure that it is gearing up so it can make full use of the pre-registration opportunity next year. We will be working with our partners, especially in the UK Competent Authority, part of the Health and Safety Executive, to do all that we can we can to make sure that industry hears the message about REACH, and particularly about pre-registration.”

A helpline has been set up for British businesses to obtain advice on how it will affect them and what they need to do to comply.

The helpdesk can be contacted on 0845 4089575.

Sam Bond

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