US should adopt REACH, Senate leader says

29 April 2008 18:46  [Source: ICIS news]

Leading senator wants more US chemical controlsWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US should make chemical producers responsible for proving their products are safe before entering the market, much like the European REACH system, the Senate environmental leader said on Tuesday.

 

Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a committee hearing on federal control of toxic substances that “it is clear that improvement is necessary if we are to ensure that dangerous chemicals are properly regulated”.

 

She said the existing and longstanding US policy of controlling chemicals in commerce based on risk assessments is inadequate, in part because current law “puts the burden on the government to prove a toxic chemical is a risk”.

 

Referring to the new EU programme for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH), Boxer said:  “REACH puts the burden on the chemical industry - where it should be - to show that their chemicals are safe” before they enter commercial use.

 

“We must strengthen our toxics laws to ensure that chemical companies are responsible for proving that their products are safe,” she said.

 

Chemical industry officials testifying at the hearing warned Congress against enacting a “US REACH” statute, saying such an approach would stifle US chemical and broader industrial innovation and development.

 

Speaking for the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), Jim DeLisi said that “an American REACH would not only hamper innovation but would reverse progress made over many years by federal regulators and the chemical industry to appropriately manage risk”.

 

DeLisi, president of Fanwood Chemical, argued that the environmental and human health benefits of REACH “will not be known for years, if ever, but its ability to tie up regulators and commerce is already clear”.

 

Jim Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), told the committee that, contrary to popular perception, REACH will not shift the burden of proof to the European chemicals industry because the EU still requires that testing data provided by producers be evaluated by an EU government agency on scientific and political grounds.

 

He also challenged EU government claims that REACH will spur development of safer chemicals, saying that a ten-year-old EU requirement for pre-market testing by industry of new substances has stifled chemicals innovation in Europe.

 

He noted that in the last decade the European industry has introduced some 2,000 new chemical patents while during the same period US producers have generated nearly 14,000 new “and usually safer” substances.

 

Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), ranking member of the committee, cautioned that “we have to be mindful of what we put at risk if we over-regulate this industry and stifle its 30-year history of innovation”.

 

“I do not believe that American chemicals innovation should be stifled by government regulation without the clear identification of risk,” Inhofe said.  “We need to ensure that we regulate chemicals based on demonstrated risk, not just the perception or assumption of it.”

 

“That ‘precautionary’ concept is one that I cannot support,” Inhofe added.

 

The committee may soon take up legislation to revise the 32-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal US chemicals regulatory statute.


By: Joe Kamalick
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