The EU Broadens Its REACH

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Europe is continuing to lead global business down a progressively greener path. Having forged ahead of the U.S. in regulatory issues related to climate change, Europe is now blazing a trail in the global landscape of chemical regulations with a new regime, REACH. The program, whose acronym stands for registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals, aims to enhance environmental and public health protection, but the American Chemical Council (ACC), the chemicals industry trade organization, views the system as too dark a shade of green to be healthy for the global economy. Experts say that REACH will cost industry more than 5 billion euros over the next 11 years, the time frame for phasing in the REACH restrictions on chemicals and products made from chemicals manufactured in or imported into the EU.

REACH is a complex package, comprising more than 220 pages of legal text, in excess of 700 pages of annexes, and 1,000-plus pages of guidance documents. In a nutshell, here are its stages:

* Registration: Requires producers and importers to obtain relevant information on chemical substances in quantities greater than one ton per year. This involves submitting a technical dossier containing information on the substance and how to manage the risk in using it. The information will be put in a central database administered by the new EU Chemicals Agency.

* Evaluation: Regulatory authorities will decide on proposals for testing substances and assess whether the information provided in the registration dossier complies with requirements.

* Authorization: May be required for substances of extremely high concern, such as known carcinogens. Registrants will be required to switch, over time, to safer alternatives where possible.

* Restrictions: Any substance determined to pose unacceptable risks to public or environmental health may be subject to restrictions throughout the EU.

Beginning on June 1, 2008, manufacturers and importers of chemicals in the EU will have to either preregister or register any substance above one ton. Failure to do so will lead to market disruptions, since REACH entails the principle, "No registration, no market," according to Jean-Philippe Montfort, an attorney with Mayer, Brown, Rowe, and Maw LLP in Brussels. …