Endgame approaches for REACH debate

They have been seven years in the making, but the chemical regulations billed as the most complicated piece of legislation ever to come out of the EU will soon be completed.

The Regulation, Evaluation & Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) system seeks to put in place safeguards to protect human health and the environment and while nobody is arguing against the its intention, how best to go about this without crippling industry has been the subject of fierce debate and frenzied lobbying.

REACH is scheduled to come into effect in April 2007, with the EC’s Environment Committee due to vote it through next week and a plenary vote to follow in November.

As things stand, the regulations will cover in the order of 30,000 chemicals, with manufacturers forced to substitute 1,700 of the most hazardous for safer alternatives unless they can demonstrate they can exercise ‘appropriate control’ over the health risks and assume a legal duty of care.

On one side of the debate, led by REACH rapportuer Guido Sacconi MEP, socialist MEPs and green NGOs, are those who are calling for more chemicals to be added to the risk list and tighter definitions of appropriate control.

On the other are trade organisations, Conservatives and, significantly, Germany which is home to almost a quarter of Europe’s chemical industry.

While the Sacconi camp is confident it has time to squeeze a little more environmental protection from the regulations, the multi-billion Euro industry is warning his plans would be unworkable, with trade association CEFIC saying ‘excessive constraints are the enemy of innovation’.

Francois Cornélis, president of the trade group, said: “REACH has for years been the driving activity of CEFIC, and will continue to be an important topic in its priorities.

“[It] is expected to give clarity in the management of substances and will put an end to the fragmentation of the legislation.

“The second reading in the Parliament requires however from our members a last effort of dialogue with MEPs, authorities and national governments, in particular on the conditions of a balanced and workable authorisation process and of an innovative and efficient mechanism to find appropriate substitutes when necessary. We hope that the focus of the debates will be put on efficiency of the legislation. Substitution also requires innovation, and excessive constraints are an enemy of innovation.”

Sam Bond

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