The Long Arm Of REACH: A Bold Proposal From The EU On Chemical Safety

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

Untitled Document

While the United States was busy in Iraq, “Old Europe” was busy at work on what many observers are calling a radical new approach to chemical regulation. It’s called REACH, for Registration, Authorization, and Evaluation of Chemicals. It began as a White Paper floated by the European Commission in 2001, which was followed by a proposed regulation issued last May that weighs in at 1,200 pages. Thus far, all EU member countries have supported the proposal, which would not take effect until 2005 at the earliest.

REACH would make several important changes in the way chemicals are assessed, and therefore handled and used. To call its potential impact on the industry — both U.S. and global — huge would be an understatement. It would shift the burden of proof from the government (to prove that a substance is harmful) to the manufacturer, importer, and user (to prove that it is not). It would thus mark one of the first times that the precautionary principle would have a significant impact on American industry. And, perhaps most significantly, whereas existing toxics legislation such as the Toxic Substances Control Act primarily affects chemicals coming onto market, or being applied to significant new uses, REACH would reach back and affect all chemicals on the market.

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