Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Willingness to Take on Big Challenges

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief
The EU's new chemical regulation — Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) — requires companies producing in or exporting to the EU to register chemicals they place in the EU market in amounts above one metric ton. EU officials will evaluate whether companies registering these chemicals have demonstrated safe production and use of them. Chemicals identified as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) are subject to authorization by the EU.

The first list of SVHCs contained 16 substances; however, in response, European environmental nongovernment organizations (NGOs) have developed a list of 300 chemicals that meet the SVHC criteria, named the SIN List 1.0. SIN stands for "substitute it now," reflecting a concern for finding safe alternatives when possible. The 1.0 denotes that the list is not finished yet, but is just the first public attempt to identify chemicals that qualify as SVHCs falling under the concerns of REACH. This information all is provided by the Environmental Defense Fund.

But how will REACH impact U.S. companies? SIN-listed chemicals are actively in commerce in the U.S. Approximately 80% of the SIN list chemicals also appear on the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) inventory. More than 85 SIN list chemicals are produced annually in amounts of one million or more pounds, 14 exceed one billion pounds each year. More than 173 companies produce or import SIN List chemicals in the U.S. At present, only about a third of the SIN chemicals have been tested under TSCA. And two of these chemicals have been subjected to TSCA regulation under narrow conditions. Approximately one third of the SIN chemicals on the TSCA inventory have been subject to testing or data development programs.

The EU's REACH intends to allow the use of SIN chemicals on a specific case-by-case basis; the U.S. Environmental Production Agency (EPA) has taken limited activity to address these chemicals. For the hundreds of companies in the U.S. that produce or import these chemicals designated as dangerous by the EU, the response to this new chemical regulation may be severe.

Why do we wait for the EU to set up the rules for environmental controls? Because the U.S. produces, imports, and exports these chemicals, shouldn't these same firms or regulating agencies have the most knowledge of and interest in safety, controls, and usage? Most people and firms do not like being bullied into action, but they like being a leader in this area and part of the solution. Did we lose our groove after 9/11, as Thomas Friedman contends in Hot, Flat, and Crowded? Surely those who have the most to lose should be those who with knowledge of control close at hand, even if they do not propose controls directly.

The information on which SIN list chemicals are in commerce in the U.S., who produces them, which chemicals have been tested under TSCA, which have been regulated by the EPA, and the list of SIN List chemicals is available to all. As anyone who visits our public libraries knows, readers are leaders. For more leadership in these areas, read the report "Across the Pond: Assessing REACH's First Big Impact on U.S. Companies and Chemicals," Sept. 2008,

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