A study performed at Tufts University in the US, commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, has downplayed the impact of the controversial REACH legislation on the European chemicals industry.
This latest study suggests that the cost of implementing REACH in its present form would impact chemical companies' revenues by just 0.06 per cent, according to a report on the EurActiv news service.
The European Commission's proposal for REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of CHemicals), first put forward last year, has been swiftly followed a by a raft of studies gauging the impact on the industry and Europe's competitiveness in general. One recent Arthur D Little study , for example, suggested that implementing the regulations would lead to a 2.9 per cent loss in Gross Domestic Product, and a 24.7 per cent loss in production.
The latest study models two regulatory scenarios - the current incarnation of REACH and 'REACH Plus' - which restores some of the original features of the proposal which were toned down in an October 2003 revision.
This study provides a bottom-up recalculation of the costs of REACH, estimating an 11-year total direct cost of €3.5 billion. REACH Plus would increase the total direct cost only to €4.0 billion, according to the researchers. And bringing indirect costs into account - those passed on to the chemical industries' customers - the researchers project total costs 'should be no more than 1.5 - 2.3 times the direct costs'.
In contrast, the Arthur D Little report implies that total costs are 650 times the direct costs, which is "an implausible result, based on numerous errors and exaggerations," according to the Tufts researchers.
Current regulations split products into two categories: those put on the market before 1981, and those that were introduced afterwards. The latter category already face rigorous testing requirements, comparable to or even greater than those imposed by REACH, the researchers point out. For existing substances, the scientists say testing would require 'hundreds, if not thousands, of years', to complete.
One of the benefits of REACH, they argue, is that it eliminates this distinction, applying the same standards to all chemicals produced or imported in quantities above one tonne. And since regulatory requirement will be eased on small-volume new substances, REACH will actually help industry by "boosting innovation and improving the competitive position of European producers."
Furthermore, they add that "early action on environmental hazards will lighten the burden on downstream users and create substantial savings in areas including worker safety, waste disposal, remediation and liability claims."
The study takes issue with a number of scenarios put forward by REACH opponents, including that the legislation will drive some chemicals off the market.
"If the chemical industry stops selling a chemical that is essential to downstream users because it is not worth paying the costs of testing and registration under REACH, then the chemical is underpriced," they assert.
Claims that the legislation will lead to wasted resources on duplicated and unwarranted registrations are also unfounded, they claim, as REACH is designed to encourage the formation of consortia and to make maximum use of available testing data.