While quietly perusing the WaPo webpages, the following paragraph suddenly screamed out at me:

“If you ask people whether they think the drain cleaner they use in their homes has been tested for safety, they think, ‘Of course, the government would have never allowed a product on the market without knowing it’s safe,’ ” said Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “When you tell them that’s not the case, they can’t believe it.”

I was totally unaware of the abysmal status of relevant regulations for the chemical industries. It turns out that there is no onus on the industry to prove that any of their products are not dangerous.

In the United States, laws in place for three decades have made banning or restricting chemicals extremely difficult. The nation’s chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, grandfathered in about 62,000 chemicals then in commercial use. Chemicals developed after the law’s passage did not have to be tested for safety. Instead, companies were asked to report toxicity information to the government, which would decide if additional tests were needed.

In more than 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has required additional studies for about 200 chemicals, a fraction of the 80,000 chemicals that are part of the U.S. market. The government has had little or no information about the health hazards or risks of most of those chemicals.

The EPA has banned only five chemicals since 1976. The hurdles are so high for the agency that it has been unable to ban asbestos, which is widely acknowledged as a likely carcinogen and is barred in more than 30 countries. Instead, the EPA relies on industry to voluntarily cease production of suspect chemicals.

A major change in EU’s policies which took place in 2000 may be about to change that.  
That year, the European Commission adopted the Precautionary Principle which regards to ‘..potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health..’.

It has taken a while (imagine the lobbying against such an initiative), but now, REACH is here (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals)!  

Europe this month rolled out new restrictions on makers of chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems, changes that are forcing U.S. industries to find new ways to produce a wide range of everyday products.

The new laws in the European Union require companies to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it enters commerce — the opposite of policies in the United States, where regulators must prove that a chemical is harmful before it can be restricted or removed from the market. Manufacturers say that complying with the European laws will add billions to their costs, possibly driving up prices of some products.

So there will be an effect in the US; the EU is large enough now to seriously influence even the US economy. Any export of chemicals from the US to the EU would be subject to REACH, thus any manufacturer with interest in exports would have to comply (just as California emission regulations influence the entire car industry).

What is clear is that the legislation will have immense benefits for the European population: In contrast, and in support of the legislation, the EC has also calculated that Reach will save Europe 54 billion euros over 30 years, because fewer people will fall ill as a result of exposure to chemicals, and the environmental impact of chemicals will be reduced.

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