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From November 23, 2005                                                                                                           

EU Pesticide Reform Policy REACH Passes Parliament
(Beyond Pesticides, November 23, 2005)
Last Thursday, the European Parliament passed REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), the landmark legislation on pesticide reform, with a vote of 407 -155. Although the law will force chemical manufacturers to evaulate “safety” of some of the worst chemicals, such as carcinogens, environmentalists are disappointed by compromises that failed to mandate that companies seek less toxic alternatives prior to registration.

The law creates a central agency to register all 30,000 or more chemicals found in everything from cleaning products and cosmetics to computers and carpets (including pesticides), produced or imported within any of the 25 countries in the European Union. In addition, the reform law mandates higher volume chemicals and chemicals of concern to be evaluated for safety data (as opposed to the U.S. system of seeking thresholds of allowable harm). Currently it is reported that only 140 of the 30,000 chemicals have been adequately evaluated in the past decade.

Chemicals considered “of highest concern” include carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxins and persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals. The compromises made, according to Reuters and environmental groups, include a reduction in the number of chemicals grouped into the categories of highest concern that will allow some “very persistent” and “very bioaccumulative” chemicals as well as hormone disrupting chemicals to remain on the market.

With the passage of the REACH plan, the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) UK issued a statement on November 17, 2005 that applauded the EU for endorsing the principle that hazardous chemicals should be substituted with safer ones, but condemned officials for leaving loopholes open that could allow thousands of harmful chemicals slip through. Environmentalists, scientists and public health advocates have long argued that the REACH plan must be strengthened in order to truly protect the public.

Among the loopholes, “Almost 90 per cent of the 17,500 chemicals manufactured in low volumes (1-10 tonnes per year) will not have to be tested to provide detailed safety data, according to WWF-UK. “Many of the 12,500 chemicals produced in larger quantities could be exempted from the testing regime if manufacturers can convince the EU that people will not be exposed to them.This will make it impossible to systematically identify and replace the most hazardous substances.”

There is one last possibility that the law could be made stronger and come back before parliament for a vote. The Council of Ministers meet in Brussels - by ensuring that the legislation will help both identify and replace hazardous chemicals covered by REACH. It is vital that these ministers make the legislation stronger.

The United States and African nations have said REACH would disrupt trade and hurt their industries, according to Reuters. Since the beginning, the Bush Administration has sided with the U.S. and European chemical industry that claims the regulations are too burdensome and would devastate the industry's competitiveness, international trade, and result in a loss of thousands of jobs.

Supporters of the REACH plan argue that with strong provisions to seek least toxic alternatives, new markets will be generated with positive incentives that will help correct the externalities of chemical manufacturing and make more evident the true cost of chemical production and use. Less harmful chemicals will also have an easier entry into the market, liability lawsuits will decrease and public trust will increase. They also argue that in the end, it must be more about people and the planet than short-term and short-sighted economics.

Regardless of the lobbying battles or the shortcomings in the currently voted-in REACH plan, the reform goes much further than the U.S. evaluation system under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) carried out by the under-funded and over-pressured U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many believe that the reforms in Europe will increase pressure on the U.S. system for pesticide reform.

For more background on REACH, see WWF-UK and previous Beyond Pesticides Daily News stories: Bush Tries To Weaken EU Chemical Reforms, Environmental Groups Say; The Arctic Is the Chemical Sink of the Globe, Report Finds.