EU Finally Agrees On Chemical Legislation

Law would require registration of 30,000 chemicals with EU agency; but environmentalists say legislation was watered down.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – EU governments and lawmakers have agreed on new legislation to control the use of chemicals in industry after years of haggling over how to balance health and environmental concerns against fears that excessive red tape would stifle business.

It is one of the largest laws ever put together by the 25-nation EU bloc. The law – Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, or REACH – foresees the registration of some 30,000 chemicals with a new European agency empowered to ban those deemed to present significant health threats.

''Manufacturers and importers now have to demonstrate that the products, the chemicals they are putting on the market, are safe,'' Chris Davies, a British Liberal member of the European Parliament who helped negotiate the compromise text, said Friday.

The agreement, reached just before midnight Thursday between EU governments and the three main political groups in the European Parliament, is now expected to be approved by the full assembly Dec. 13. Environment ministers will then give final approval on Dec. 18.

Environmentalists denounced the agreement, saying EU lawmakers and governments watered down the bill.

''The deal will allow many chemicals of very high concern, including many that cause cancer, birth defects and other serious illnesses to stay on the market and be used in consumer products even when safer alternatives are available,'' said a statement from seven campaign groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Under the law, manufacturers are required to substitute around 1,500 chemicals with safer alternatives if their use is economically viable. However, the campaigners said the compromise allows producers too much leeway in deciding themselves if the alternatives can be used.

The legislation, first proposed by the European Commission in 2003, has long been resisted by the EU's $790 billion a year chemical industry. Although industry lobbying diluted its original proposals, the EU's executive welcomed the compromise.

''It is a marked improvement of the present situation regarding health and environment,'' the commission said in a statement. ''At the same time, it safeguards the competitiveness of the European industry.''

The European Chemical Industry Council said it needed more time to study details of the agreement, before reacting. ''It's all too confusing,'' said Franco Bisegna, a senior counselor with the industry body.


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