New European Union chemical safety rules are now in effect. The EU law known as REACH requires the properties of roughly 30,000 chemicals produced in or imported into the bloc to be registered. This should help assess their effect on living things. The European Chemicals agency has just opened in Helsinki. Companies now have 18 months to collect information for the “pre-registration” phase.
The European Parliament and EU governments approved a final version of the law last December, after years of fierce debate between environmentalists and industry. The disagreement continues, companies fretting over the costs and activists because they believe the rules are not strict enough.
REACH detractors such as the US object because it complicates trade, since the substances concerned are used in a huge variety of goods – from cars, to carpets to skin care. Animal rights groups forecast a huge increase in tests on animals. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals. Those of highest concern, such as carcinogens, would require specific clearance, or could be banned. The EU’s industry commissioner said implementing REACH will be a challenge. The variety and quantity of substances people are exposed to have risen enormously over the years, and little is known about many of them.