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E-M:/ New European Chemical Law Means Changes for Michigan

Title: New European Chemical Law Means Changes for Michigan
New European Chemical Law Means Major Changes for Michigan
For Immediate Release
Contact: Tracey Easthope or Charles Griffith (734) 761-3186 x 109 or x 116

        After years of heated controversy, the European Parliament today passed the most extensive overhaul of chemicals regulation globally since the mid 1970's.  The law requires the chemical industry to gather data on chemicals in everyday commerce, and will have major implications for U.S.-based and Michigan-based businesses.  Michigan companies have significant exports to European Union countries, and some Michigan-based companies also have extensive operations in Europe.

        "This marks a watershed for chemicals management globally," said Tracey Easthope, MPH, Environmental Health Director of the Ecology Center.  "It puts the burden on chemical manufacturers to test their products.  Europe has acknowledged what we have long known -- that current regulations governing chemicals do not protect public health or the environment, here or in Europe.  The difference is that Europe is doing something about it."

        The REACH (for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) legislation text agreed to today will require chemical companies to share health and safety information about their chemicals with downstream users (such as electronics and cosmetics industries) and the public.  A few thousand of the most hazardous chemicals will require formal authorization providing a stronger incentive to substitute them with safer alternatives. Some of the most dangerous chemicals -- such as those that are very persistent and those that accumulate up the food chain -- will not be authorized for use if safer substitutes are available. If substitutes are not available on the market now, industry will be required to draw up a substitution research and adoption plan.

        "Companies that reformulate their products to avoid the worst chemicals will clearly have an advantage in global markets,"  said Charles Griffith, Auto Project Director at the Ecology Center.

        US manufacturers that seek European markets for their products must meet the new standards.  Some chemicals may be restricted or banned, and some products will need to be reformulated if they contain particularly hazardous chemicals.  REACH has outlined a 11 year process to register 30,000 chemicals starting with the highest volume and most harmful chemicals.

        The vote marks the end of a seven year process in the European Union (EU) to evaluate the shortcomings of the regulation of industrial chemicals.  But the United States lags far behind in addressing the same problem here.   A report issued in June of this year by the General Accounting Office found the  "EPA lacks sufficient data to ensure that potential health and environmental risks of new chemicals are identified." The report also found that the "EPA has used its authority to require testing for fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in commerce when EPA began reviewing chemicals under TSCA in 1979."  The report concluded that existing US laws have made it difficult for the agency to adequately review chemicals already on the market.

        According to a prominent story in the Los Angeles Times in October, the United States is becoming a dumping ground for products containing hazardous chemicals that are restricted elsewhere.  "[T]oys, electronics, pesticides and cosmetics are among U.S. products that contain substances that are banned or restricted elsewhere, particularly in Europe and Japan, because they may raise the risk of cancer, alter hormones or cause reproductive or neurological damage." 

        While the European Union has banned or heavily restricted many toxic substances in recent years,  the Environmental Protection Agency has relied on voluntary steps from industries rather than regulations. The burden of proof under US law is very steep, and rests with the regulatory agency, not the chemical manufacturer.

        The vote in Europe follows on the heels of a  December 8 announcement by the Canadian government of a major new chemicals management plan that its Environment Minister Jean Beliveau has said will "make Canada a world leader in assessing and regulating chemicals that are used in thousands of industrial and consumer products."  The plan establishes clear priorities to reduce and eliminate chemicals to protect the health of Canadians.  The plan follows a seven-year long assessment of and categorization of 23,000 existing chemicals completed last September.   On the horizon are labeling programs, and consideration of imported products.  One of the first actions came last week, with the announcement that the country would ban all uses of hexachlorobutadiene.

        Even China has announced plans to incorporate green design principles across society and industry sectors.  President Hu Jintao has announced the Circular Economy -- a book by William McDonough calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design -- will be part of China's new national policy.

        Michigan's export shipments of merchandise in 2005 totaled $37.6 billion, placing Michigan fifth among the states in this category. Michigan exported to 199 foreign destinations in 2005. The state's largest foreign market, by far, in 2005 was Canada, which received exports of $22.6 billion, or 60 percent of the Michigan total,  Mexico purchased $4.2 billion, and Japan $1.1 billion) of Michigan goods.  European Union markets rounded out the state's top 10 markets including Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, France, and Belgium.  In addition, China, and South Korea are major importers of Michigan goods.

        Export-supported jobs linked to manufacturing account for an estimated 5.8 percent of Michigan's total private-sector employment. Nearly one-fifth (19.5 percent) of all manufacturing workers in Michigan depend on exports for their jobs based on 2002 data.
For more information on REACH http://www.chemicalspolicy.org/