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'Eurocrats' REACH Beyond Their Grasp

 

DATE: June 11, 2005

BACKGROUND: The European Union is considering a 1,700-page plan to regulate the use of chemicals throughout the EU.  Known as REACH, short for "registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals," the plan will require virtually every chemical in use in the EU -- some 30,000 in all -- to undergo a battery of testing procedures to prove they don't pose an undue risk to the public.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The European Union's REACH proposal, if adopted, will reduce international trade in chemicals, inhibit innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises, and raise costs and regulatory burdens on all users of chemical products.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Because all manufactured products contain chemicals, finished goods, including their components, are subject to REACH.  The whole supply chain will be under the gun.  More than half of all the products imported into the EU will be affected by REACH. Many low-volume chemicals will have to be withdrawn from the market, not because they pose a danger to the public, but because the cost of jumping through the EU's testing hoops will exceed the cost of withdrawal.  Yet, all this is completely unnecessary.  Chemicals already undergo extensive testing for their effects on human health and the environment.

DISCUSSION:

The emphatic rejection of the European Union's constitution by voters in France and The Netherlands is a rude awakening for Europe's all-too-smug political elites.  Hundreds of pages in length, and containing 448 articles, the EU constitution was an unreadable, and mostly unread, monstrosity.  That such a document would even be written is yet another indication that the EU is on its way to becoming a bureaucratic super-state in which unaccountable functionaries in Brussels seek to micro-manage virtually every aspect of European life.   

Yet as bad as the EU constitution is, it pales in comparison with another scheme Brussels has cooked up, one whose harm will extend far beyond the borders of the European Union.  This latest outrage is a 1,700-page plan to regulate the use of chemicals throughout the EU.  Known as REACH, short for "registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals," the plan will require virtually every chemical in use in the EU -- some 30,000 in all -- to undergo a battery of testing procedures to prove they don't pose an undue risk to the public.  Some 4,000 of the chemical deemed particularly "hazardous" by the European Commission (the regulatory arm of the EU) will have to subjected to addition testing before they are allowed to be sold in Europe.1     

Under REACH, getting chemicals registered, evaluated and authorized for sale in the EU will require manufacturers to run a bureaucratic maze of Byzantine proportions.  Chemicals already in commerce would stay on the market but would have to undergo further study to determine their health effects before they are officially registered.  Manufacturers also would have to address all "identified uses" of a chemical, adding immeasurably to the paperwork burdens required for registration.2

Once registration dossiers have been put together, they must then pass a "completeness check" by EU bureaucrats and undergo "evaluation" by individual EU governments.  Incredibly, REACH contains no guidelines for these evaluations, meaning that the governments of France, Italy, Spain, Germany etc. can evaluate chemicals according to their own separate criteria.  EU governments also could order further testing, leaving a manufacturer in limbo indefinitely.3

For the 4,000 or so chemicals classified as "hazardous" under the plan, meaning they are persistent, toxic, bioaccumlative or carcinogenic, REACH will require manufacturers to prove they are safe before they are authorized for sale.  This, of course, will require even more testing.  Markets threatened by the authorization phase of REACH include electronics, dyes, additives in plastics, adhesives and sealants, pigments, synthetic rubber, and photographic chemicals.4       

It's not just the chemical industry that's under assault here.  Because all manufactured products contain chemicals, finished goods, including their components, are subject to REACH.  The whole supply chain will be under the gun.  In fact, according to a consultant advising the European Commission, more than half of all the products imported into the EU will be affected by REACH.5  What's more, many low-volume chemicals will have to be withdrawn from the market, not because they pose a danger to the public, but because the cost of jumping through the EU's testing hoops will exceed the cost of withdrawal.6

Thus, the reach of REACH will extend far beyond the EU.  Scheduled to go into effect in 2007, it will have a devastating effect on the manufacturing sectors in Europe, the U.S., Japan, and elsewhere.  Unless it is radically altered, or, better, discarded altogether, REACH will reduce international trade in chemicals, inhibit innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises, and raise costs and regulatory burdens on all users of chemical products, which means just about everybody.

As if this bureaucratic nightmare weren't enough, companies supplying all this data to the eurocrats in Brussels have to worry about protecting their confidential business information, lest their trade secrets fall into the wrong hands.

What makes the scheme even more absurd is that it's completely unnecessary.  Chemicals already undergo extensive testing for their effects on human health and the environment.  Furthermore, ever since industrial chemicals have been in widespread use, life expectancy has risen dramatically.  Indeed, chemicals used to purify drinking water or to make possible life-saving medical devices such as IV bags and plastic tubing have contributed substantially to that increased life expectancy.

One of the things that separates us from the cave dwellers of antiquity is our ability to apply science and technology to the challenge of living longer, healthier lives.  With REACH, the EU has launched an attack on the products of human ingenuity that threatens the very foundations of prosperity its bureaucrats take for granted.


by Bonner Cohen

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110

The National Center for Public Policy Research
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002




Footnotes:

1. Angela Logomasini, "Europe REACHes for Protectionism, Promoting Stagnation Over Progress," CEI Enviro Wire 24 October 2003: 1.

2. Logomasini: 1.

3. "REACH Impacts on Non-EU Industries (American Chemistry Council, April 2005), document presented by Mike Walls, American Chemistry Council, to the Chemical Policy Group, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 25 April 2005
 
4. "REACH Impacts on Non-EU Industries."

5. "REACH Impacts on Non-EU Industries."

6. "So That's Why Europe's in Demographic Decline," Wall Street Journal (editorial) 13 May 2005: A18.

 


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