EU chemical law passed amid controversy

By Emilie Reymond and Louise Prance

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Personal care products, European union

EU lawmakers have approved a new chemical law aimed at making
producers and importers of chemicals, used in goods such as
personal care products, prove that the substances they put on the
market are safe for consumers.

The European Parliament voted to approve the new bill known as REACH - Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals - after more than three years of debate between industry and environmentalists, making it one of the most controversial laws in years.

The vote comes weeks after a deal with EU governments settled the most litigious issues.

The European Commission has estimated that the new law will cost the chemical industry between €2.8bn and €5.2bn over the next decade, while it would save Europe €54bn euros over 30 years because a smaller number of people would become ill as a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The legislation, which EU nations have until 2018 to implement, will affect the cosmetics industry by targeting both the chemicals used in packaging of products, as well as some used in formulations. The EU previously relied on a negative list to regulate the use of chemicals. Which meant any chemical not on the EU blacklist could normally be used for the production of cosmetics.Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch international manufacturer of personal care products, said it wholly complies with the new rules and is encouraging similar companies to embrace the changes in order to promote "consumer confidence in products containing chemicals".

Charles Laroche, Vice President European External Affairs of Unilever said, "We call all industry partners to look at REACH positively in order to make it a real success, building on its strong points and potential. There is still an expectation in society that industry has a role in demonstrating to all stakeholders that it can be trusted for its commitment in improving consumer safety and environmental protection."

Likewise BASF, the giant chemical manufacturer based in Germany, said it was "well prepared" for the new rules and has estimated its implementation costs would represent approximately €550m spread over 10 years, while development of alternative products based on value for costumers were ongoing.

However, while British trade and industry groups welcomed the new rules, which are supposed to come into force in June next year, reactions from the US were not that positive, as American industry bodies are concerned about trade flow.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said the legislation was approved "in a form which will unnecessarily stifle trade and innovation" and that the vote failed to produce workable chemical legislation.

"The compromised package approved by the Parliament has not addressed many of the key concerns repeatedly expressed by industry and major EU trading partners,"​ said Jack Gerard, ACC president and CEO, in a statement.

"A more focused and flexible approach to registration, and a truly risk-based approach to authorisation, could have brought our economies and regulatory systems closer together."

The new legislation requires around 30,000 chemicals to undergo testing by industry and review by a new agency, the European Chemicals Agency (EChA), with the power to ban chemicals posing significant health threats.

The EChA will enforce chemical producers to a 'substitution principle', whereby they are required to come up with safer alternatives to substances deemed dangerous by EChA and submit a 'substitution plan'. If there are no safe alternatives, an R&D list to find substitutions at a later stage should be put forward.

And that's where the main issue lies. Gerard criticised in particular this new requirement for submission of a 'substitution plan' saying it was a "poor use of time, energy and resources, particularly given the reality that viable substitutes are not readily available for every use."

He added that he was concerned that the pressure to find and adopt substitutes will lead to "unintended and potentially adverse consequences."

The law's detractors also include African countries, concerned about exports to the European Union, animal rights groups and the metals sector.

The compromised deal on the proposed REACH regulation was adopted by Parliament yesterday with 529 votes in favour, 98 against and 24 abstentions.

The package will now be forwarded to the EU Council of Ministers for final approval on 18 December.

Unilever released a statement saying the regulation "marks a critical step forward in the finalization of long discussions aimed at seeking a compromise.​"

Related topics: Regulatory & Safety