EurActiv  [Printer-friendly version]
December 14, 2006


European Parliament shifts the burden of proof: businesses will now
need to demonstrate the safety of thousands of chemicals.

[Rachel's introduction: Here's a good overview of the new European
chemicals policy, called REACH, and the positions on REACH taken by
various groups. Good summaries of the new law are available from the
European Commission and from Greenpeace (here and here).]

A compromise deal on the proposed REACH regulation was adopted by [the
European] Parliament on 13 December with 529 votes in favour, 98
against and 24 abstentions.

The package will now be forwarded to the EU [European Union] Council
of Ministers for final approval on 18 December 2006 in what will be a
formal rubber-stamping exercise.

The new rules, which will come into effect starting in June 2007, will
require importers and manufacturers of chemicals to provide health and
safety data for some 30,000 substances currently used in everyday
products. These range from plastics used in computers and mobile
phones to substances used in textiles, paints, furniture, toys and
cleaning products.

All must be registered over an 11-year period within a new chemicals
agency to be set up in Helsinki. The registration process will begin
with the most toxic chemicals as well as those marketed in higher

Details of the compromise were unveiled on 1 December by Guido
Sacconi, the Parliament's chief negotiator on REACH. Central to the
agreement is the replacement of the most toxic substances with safer
alternatives (EurActiv 4/12/06). If one exists at reasonable cost,
dangerous substances will have to be replaced. If not, companies will
need to produce either a substitution plan or an R&D plan to replace
them at a later stage.

Despite warnings by environmental groups that the bill has been
severely watered down after industry lobbying, MEPs [members of the
European Parliament] managed to keep the fundamental part of the text
intact -- the reversal of the burden of proof from authorities to

"Instead of national authorities having to justify concern about
particular chemicals, the responsibility for proving that their
products are safe will now rest with the manufacturers," said Chris
Davies, environment spokesperson for the liberal democrats (ALDE).


The European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) acknowledged the
efforts made by EU institutions to arrive at a compromise acceptable
to all stakeholders -- industry, downstream chemical users and

"The challenge during the legislative period has been to ensure the
workability of the legislation, so that it can deliver real
improvements," said CEFIC Director-General Alain Perroy. However, he
regretted the "unnecessary requirements added to the authorisation
element of REACH" relating to the substitution of dangerous

"It will clearly add to costs," said Perroy who denounced the
"illusion" that substitution could be governed by a "command and
control approach". The end result will be "legal uncertainty" for
business and, consequently, reduced investments and innovation, Perroy

CEFIC said that efforts should now focus on implementing the new
rules. Perroy called on EU institutions "to continue developing the
technical guidance and instruments needed to secure the successful
implementation of REACH. In this context, it will be of paramount
importance to establish an efficient and cost-effective agency".

Small-business organisations said that they appreciated efforts made
to ease the bureaucratic burden for SMEs by cutting down on safety
assessments for substances produced in smaller quantities. But
overall, small business organisation UEAPME said the result is "quite

"The issues of data sharing and data liberalisation have been
sidelined during the debate, and legal certainty on cost sharing is
left to future guidelines. More could have been done," said Guido
Lena, environmental policy director at UEAPME.

The European trade union confederation (ETUC) said that it welcomed
progress made on the management of chemical risks, but condemned "the
chemical industry's seven-year lobbying campaign to get the European
institutions to scale down the reform".

In particular, ETUC said that information vital to protecting workers'
health in chemical safety reports "will now only be required for a
third of the chemicals originally planned."

ETUC however welcomed that the burden of proof is now firmly placed on
producers to prove that their products are safe. "That marks clear
progress, because industry will now have to provide information on the
safety of their chemicals before they can put them on the market,"
said Joel Decaillon of ETUC.

Environmental organisations were doubtful about the compromise. On the
positive side, Greenpeace and the WWF welcomed:

The fact that companies will now be responsible to prove the safety of
chemicals produced or imported in large volumes (above 10 tonnes a
year); that there is a mechanism to replace persistent and
bioaccumulative chemicals if safer alternatives exist, and; that the
public is allowed to request information about the presence of
chemicals in products. But on the negative side, they pointed to
"major loopholes". These include:

Less stringent safety requirements for carcinogens and chemicals which
can cause birth defects and reproductive illnesses; substances
imported in low volumes (below ten tonnes per year) for which "no
meaningful safety data" will be required, and; provisions relative to
'high-concern' chemicals that will still be allowed onto the market if
producers can prove that they can be "adequately controlled" when a
"safe threshold" can be defined where their detection is considered as
posing no threat to human health. "The approach of adequate control --
and safe thresholds -- is premised on a risky gamble, given the
unknown effects of chemicals in combination, on vulnerable hormone
functions, and on the development of children from the earliest stages
of life," the organisations said.

Ultimately, they say a lot will depend on the new chemicals agency to
be set up in Helsinki, Finland. "The new EU Chemicals Agency in
Helsinki will have to be closely monitored to ensure that REACH can
deliver," WWF said. "Without the necessary support, hazardous
chemicals will continue to contaminate wildlife, our homes and our
bodies, and REACH will prove a failure."

Latest & next steps:

18 December 2006: Council to formally rubber-stamp the agreement ('A'
point to be adopted without debate).

June 2007: REACH regulation comes into force.

June 2008: European Chemicals Agency becomes operational, pre-
registration phase starts.

June 2018: Registration phase closes with substances produced in
smaller quantities (1-10 tonnes).


EU official documents

Parliament (Press release): Parliament adopts REACH -- new EU
chemicals legislation and new chemicals agency (13 Dec. 2006)

Commission (Press release): REACH: Commission welcomes European
Parliament vote on new EU chemicals legislation (13 Dec. 2006)

Commission: Q&A on the new Chemicals policy, REACH (13 Dec. 2006)

Political Groups

EPP-ED: REACH adoption welcomed: EPP-ED success on core issues (13
Dec. 2006)

PSE: Euro MPs adopt world's toughest curbs on dangerous chemicals
(13 Dec. 2006)

ALDE: Making chemicals safer -- MEPs vote tomorrow for record
breaking EU law (12 Dec. 2006)

Greens/EFA: REACH: EP rubberstamps weak deal with no guarantee of
greater protection from hazardous chemicals (13 Dec. 2006)

GUE/NGL: REACH -- a new regulatory framework for chemicals (13 Dec.

EU Actors positions

CEFIC: European Chemical Industry committed to making REACH work (13
Dec. 2006)

European Association of Chemical Distributors (FECC): Press Release:
"on Council political agreement on REACH" (13 Dec. 2006)

UEAPME: REACH: last-minute deal a step forward for simplification, a
step back for SME formulators (13 Dec. 2006)

SME Union: REACH compromise less toxic for SMEs (12 Dec. 2006)

UNICE / CEFIC / Eurometaux / Orgalime: Implementation of REACH: a
demanding challenge for EU industry (6 Dec. 2006)

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC): European Parliament adopts
watered-down REACH: a result for chemical industry lobbying (13 Dec.

WWF/ Greenpeace: REACH: Alive but not kicking (13 Dec. 2006)

Greenpeace: REACH in brief

Greenpeace: Flowchart on decision-making process

BEUC: REACH is not the end of the story (13 Dec. 2006)

European Small Business Alliance (ESBA): REACH vote in plenary -
mixed result for SMEs (13 Dec. 2006)

Eurometaux: Further work is needed to make REACH workable for metals
(Dec. 2006)

Unilever: Call for industry partners to join forces in order to make
REACH a real success (13 Dec. 2006)

People for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA): Replace animal
tests in massive, deadly programme (13 Dec. 2006)

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