REACH, the regulation on chemicals and their safe use, aims to identify hazardous chemicals, but has the regulation gone far enough to protect consumers? Will there be sufficient information made available, and is it going to make the products we use safe
Chemicals are everywhere in our daily life. Today still, their impact on human health is not well known. The REACH regulation should allow a better assessment of chemicals. REACH in English: R for Registration, E for Evaluation, A for Authorisation and CH for Chemicals. In December 2006, at an overwhelming majority, the Parliament adopted a regulation on chemicals: 529 votes for, 98 against and 24 abstentions. This vote was decisive for human health. Blood tests showed that dozens of toxic chemicals are found in our veins. Each year the quantity and the number of those substances increase. Cosmetics in our bathrooms contain products upsetting our hormonal system that could damage cerebral functions. In kitchen products, there are products infecting young mothers' milk. In toys, phthalates can upset hormones and cause kidney and testicular problems. In the living-room, sofa upholstery is covered with flame retardants. We think they have an impact on cerebral development. Before REACH, 40 laws regulated the use of chemicals within the EU. In 25 years only 40 molecules had been examined from head to toe. REACH brings a revolution. This text will allow the evaluation of around 30,000 substances on the market. These are 99% of the products used nowadays. Producers and importers of chemicals have 11 years maximum to register and assess the characteristics of all these chemical molecules. For all consumer goods which will be for sale after 2018 this jacket, pens etc. Citizens will have the certainty that these won't contain any toxic substances. Currently, there is no guarantee. This Herculean work, registering tens of thousands of chemicals, is done by the European Chemicals Agency. It manages the registration, assessment and authorisation procedures. What we wanted to achieve was that the substances which aren't yet registered will be put on a register. All those producing and marketing these chemicals will provide clear data about the chemicals, their characteristics and how dangerous they are. All this comes at a cost for the European chemicals industry. It now has to test scientifically whether products are harmless for humans and the environment. During the political negotiations the chemicals industry did its best to defend its interests. Reminder: this sector employs 1.5 million persons in Europe and is worth 440 billion euros per year. The chemicals industry and the European economy are essential for our well-being, employment, and creating wealth and it is equally important to preserve competitiveness. Among these 30,000 chemicals which have to be registered it is estimated that 3,000 are health hazards. So far, only 7 chemicals have been identified as priorities by the Agency. That's way too little for NGO WWF. A lot is at stake: the EU plans 50 billion euros of savings over 30 years to heal allergies, cancers, skin and lung diseases.