December 13, 2005

EU ministers approve new law on toxic chemicals

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union ministers approved a
landmark bill on Tuesday to protect the public from toxic
chemicals, clinching a deal despite opposition from industry
and cries from activists that the measure was too weak.

Ministers supported a compromise on Registration,
Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) by a
qualified majority, almost a month after the European
Parliament backed a version of its own.

"I think we can now congratulate ourselves on a job well
done," British Industry Minister Lord Sainsbury, chairing the
meeting, said after the complex legislation was endorsed.

The law requires properties of roughly 30,000 chemicals
produced or imported in the EU to be registered with a central
agency. Those of highest concern, like carcinogens, would
require testing and authorisation to be used.

REACH was designed to protect people and the environment
from the adverse effects of chemicals found in a wide range of
products such as paint, detergents, cars and computers.

The ministers' vote was delayed after Germany, home to
Europe's largest chemicals companies, asked for more time for
its new government to take a position.

Tuesday's vote is not the last step before REACH can become
law. Ministers' political agreement must now be translated into
all EU languages and sent to Parliament sometime next year.
Lawmakers and member states will then have to resolve the
differences between their versions.

One major sticking point is likely to be the authorisation
phase. Parliament approved a measure that would require
companies to substitute safe substances for dangerous ones when
alternatives are available. The ministers' version does not
include mandatory substitution.

Member states and Parliament both approved
industry-friendly aspects in the registration phase that would
substantially reduce the number of chemicals requiring tests to
obtain health and safety data.