European chemical legislation adopted

A groundbreaking chemical law, passed by the European Parliament on Dec. 13, is set to fundamentally change the evaluation and production of chemicals used throughout the European Union.

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) law, which will go into effect in June 2007, takes a different approach than current U.S. policy does. It shifts the responsibility for chemical testing and risk evaluation from public authorities to the chemical industry itself. Manufacturers will have to register with the new European Chemicals Agency any chemical produced or imported in volumes of 1,000 kilograms or more per year. Companies must provide information on all such materials’ properties, uses, and safe handling.

All the roughly 30,000 substances covered by this provision must be registered by 2018. The most dangerous chemicals and those produced at the highest volumes are first in line.

Companies are required to seek special authorization for chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive problems and chemicals that accumulate in the environment or in people. For the most hazardous substances, manufacturers are required to submit a plan indicating safer chemical replacements or, if none exists, a research proposal to find one.

The legislation encourages companies to develop and use toxicity tests that don’t require vertebrate animals.

The European Commission—the executive body of the European Union—estimates that implementing REACH will cost 2.8 to 5.2 billion euros.

Aimee Cunningham

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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