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REACH Is Wrapped Up

Last-minute compromise ensures passage of regulatory regime by European Union

by Patricia L. Short
December 4, 2006

Delegations from the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have hammered out a compromise agreement that ensures passage by the end of this year of REACH, the European Union's program for regulation, evaluation, and authorization of chemicals.

Final votes will be held by both the Parliament and the council in mid-December, but the compromise measures are virtually guaranteed to be accepted by both bodies.

The main points of the compromise are as follows:

Parliament will appoint two members to the board of the new European Chemicals Agency (EChA), which is expected to begin by April 2007. The executive director must be confirmed by Parliament in a process similar to the one required for approval of European Commission commissioners.

EChA will require chemical producers to submit a plan to substitute safer alternatives for substances it determines to be dangerous or, if no alternative exists, an R&D plan for safer replacements.

After six years, there will be a review, based on the latest scientific data, on the authorization of substances with endocrine-disrupting properties. Protection of company safety data has been extended from three years to six years.

The compromise accepts the principle of Duty of Care, which holds that chemical manufacturers, importers, and marketers should not adversely affect human health or the environment with their products.

Changes were agreed to with the dual aims of avoiding duplication of animal testing and promoting alternative test methods.

Proposed some four years ago, REACH has been one of the most controversial and contentious legislative programs ever tackled by the European Commission, and the compromise leaves no one completely happy. Consumer and environment organizations, for example, think there are too many loopholes in the law, particularly regarding product substitution.

In fact, substitution was the last major point of difference between parliament and the council and threatened to wreck the entire regulatory program until the last-minute compromise. Parliament had wanted a stricter substitution requirement than the one agreed upon.



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