In a stride towards a safer environmental future, the European Parliament has approved a landmark law to regulate toxic chemicals, many of them commonly touched or ingested by EU citizens. The vote puts the package known as REACH (for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) on track to enter force in 2007. After years of debate between industry and environmentalists, the bill was designed to make companies prove that substances in everyday products are safe. REACH requires the properties of roughly 30,000 chemicals produced or imported into the EU to be registered with a central, Helsinki-based agency. Those of highest concern, such as carcinogens, would require testing and authorisation, a process that could lead to outright bans. EU leaders have said the rules would set a global standard, but critics say REACH has been severely watered down. The law requires that bio-accumulative and toxic chemicals be removed from the market if suitable alternatives exist. Companies would have to submit a “substitution plan” when seeking authorisation for the roughly 1,500 chemicals expected to be considered of high concern. But if they can be adequately controlled, the substances will be approved.
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