Last week, under the radar of the mainstream media in the US, the European Parliament passed a far-reaching and bone-headed piece of legislation that will resonate for years to come. The bill — called the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals system, or “REACH” — will force companies to test chemicals found in common household products for their effects on human health and the environment. The sea change here, according to a story by David Rennie in the Daily Telegraph, is that at present, the burden of proof lies with the regulators to demonstrate that a particular substance is unsafe. (Remember they don’t have our lawyers over there, so you have to get your brain around a society that doesn’t revolve around the threat of litigation). What this law does is to place the burden of proving the substances’ safety on the manufacturer, whether or not there’s any allegation or reason to believe that the substance is a threat to health at all.
Some very dumb ideas sometimes begin at the EU and then catch on. Let’s hope this isn’t one of them. The law affects all chemicals created before 1981, equaling some 90% of chemicals currently in use. Also as a result of the law, some 30,000 chemicals will be required to be registered with a newly-created (of course) European Chemicals Agency. The law takes effect in 2007.
US manufacturers begin with a rigorous process for vetting any substance they work with. And, they have lots of eyeballs over their shoulders, from an avaricious trial bar to over-eager regulators. There are lots of safeguards in the system, and manufacturers already have enough burdens to contend with, starting with legal costs and energy. Let’s hope this is one idea that says on the other side of the Atlantic.
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