would force industries worldwide to test thousands of compounds for
The European Parliament on Thursday approved legislation requiring safety
testing of thousands of compounds widely used in everyday products, endorsing
a policy that would overhaul how the public was protected from toxic
The regulation, if approved by a council of Europe's national governments,
would force industries worldwide to test their chemicals for effects on human
health and the environment. It would be the world's strictest standard,
eclipsing U.S. laws, and could lead to global bans on some compounds.
Chemicals found in a variety of products — such as computers,
cosmetics, cars, furniture, detergent and pesticides — would have
to undergo basic toxicity testing. Those used in the largest volumes would be
subjected to more rigorous testing.
Called Reach, or Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, the
law could cost American industries that export products to Europe billions of
dollars. The Bush administration and the U.S. chemical industry teamed to
fight the European Union's proposal, calling it unworkable and excessive.
"If enacted, manufacturers and consumer product companies from Boston to
Bombay that use essential chemical products would be impacted by this
misguided scheme," said Jack N. Gerard, president and chief executive of
the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade group.
Under current U.S. and EU laws, most chemicals — those that were used before
1981 in Europe and 1976 in the United States — are not required to undergo
The new European law was prompted by discoveries that chemicals are amassing
in human bodies, particularly breast milk, as well as in wildlife. In most
cases, the potential dangers are unknown. Some 70,000 to 100,000 chemicals are
in commerce today, and experts say that more than 90% have not been subjected
to basic toxicity testing for health and ecological effects.
"These new rules will make a huge difference in protecting people's
health, both at work and in everyday life, and in safeguarding our
environment," said Guido Sacconi, a member of the Italian Socialist party
who brokered the policy approved Thursday.
"Companies will have to show that the chemicals they produce or import
are safe. But the competitiveness of European firms will not be
Parliament's vote, which came after years of debate and thousands of
amendments, was considered a major hurdle. Europe's diverse political parties
— led by the conservative People's Party and the Socialists — agreed after
major concessions were made to accommodate some of industry's concerns.
The proposal now goes to Europe's other legislative assembly, the Council of
Ministers, which represents the EU's 25 member states. The council already is
considering a draft, crafted by Britain, that is similar to the one Parliament
adopted, and a vote could come next month. Europe's executive branch, the
European Commission, approved Reach two years ago and has endorsed the new
Members of the European Commission overseeing both industry and environmental
issues say the legislation could become final in December.
"All in all, there is hope for this to be on the statute book by the end
of the year," Gunter Verheugen, vice president of the commission who is
responsible for enterprise and industry, told Parliament when it began its
Under the legislation, companies would have to register about 30,000
chemicals, those used in volumes of at least one ton per year, with a newly
created European agency.
Chemicals considered the most dangerous — because they have been linked to
cancer or reproductive effects, or because they build up in the environment
— would require authorization by the new agency or their use in products
sold in Europe would be prohibited. Businesses would have to opt for safer
substitutes if they were available.
Scientists say that low doses of many chemicals found in human bodies have
been shown in animals to alter sex hormones, brains and immune cells.
European officials called the debate over Reach a legislative marathon, among
their most controversial and complex initiatives since the EU was created.
Lobbying was intense, with environmental activists and unions battling large
Stavros Dimas, Europe's environmental commissioner, said the legislation
"marks the beginning of a new era for chemical safety."
He said it would "increase the confidence of consumers in the chemical
products they come in touch with" and "spur innovation and encourage
substitution by safer products."
Parliament, convening in Strasbourg, France, voted 407 to 155 in favor with 41
Sacconi said that "unbelievable pressure" came from large
industries. The European chemical industry has sales of more than $600 billion
a year and employs 1.3 million people, mostly in Germany.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a U.S.-based free-market think tank,
said in a report written for European counterparts that Reach would be
"costly for the world, suicidal for Europe" and contended that there
was no proof of environmental or health benefits.
The testing would be phased in over an 11-year period. The European Commission
estimates that costs to industry would be $2 billion to $6 billion over the 11
years but would be offset by $58 billion in healthcare cost savings over three
Parliament officials said Thursday that industry's fears of overregulation
struck a chord with most members, so they eased some provisions. Fewer of the
estimated 17,000 chemicals used in annual volumes of less than 10 tons would
require safety tests. They would have to be registered but less data would be
required, and some would not need any testing.
Conservative party members and industry representatives welcomed the
compromise because it minimized costly animal testing and eased the burden on
smaller businesses. On the other hand, they oppose another provision added by
Parliament that allows the most hazardous chemicals to be authorized for only
five-year periods. They fear it will be a bureaucratic nightmare for the
Jonas Sjostedt, a member of Sweden's Socialist party in Parliament, said
Socialists voted for the legislation because "a weak Reach is better than
no Reach at all." He said the proposal "was radically weakened"
and his party voted in favor "without enthusiasm."
Environmental groups said the provisions pertaining to the lower-volume
chemicals were so watered down that Reach would not protect the public. They
are seeking to persuade the Council of Ministers to strengthen them.
"It would leave thousands of chemicals without basic toxicity data, and
so would hamper the identification of harmful chemicals, such as hormone
disrupters," said a coalition of seven groups, including World Wildlife
Fund and Greenpeace.