A compromise deal on the proposed REACH regulation was adopted by Parliament on 13 December with 529 votes in favour, 98 against and 24 abstentions.
The package will now be forwarded to the EU Council of Ministers for final approval on 18 December 2006 in what will be a formal rubber-stamping exercise.
The new rules, which will come into effect from June 2007, will require importers and manufacturers of chemicals to provide health and safety data for some 30,000 substances currently used in everyday products. These range from plastics used in computers and mobile phones to substances used in textiles, paints, furniture, toys and cleaning products.
All must be registered over an 11-year period within a new chemicals agency to be set up in Helsinki. The registration process will begin with the most toxic chemicals as well as those marketed in higher volumes.
Details of the compromise were unveiled on 1 December by Guido Sacconi, the Parliament's chief negotiator on REACH. Central to the agreement is the replacement of the most toxic substances with safer alternatives (EurActiv 4/12/06). If one exists at reasonable cost, dangerous substances will have to be replaced. If not, companies will need to produce either a substitution plan or an R&D plan to replace them at a later stage.
Despite warnings by environmental groups that the bill has been severely watered down after industry lobbying, MEPs managed to keep the fundamental part of the text intact - the reversal of the burden of proof from authorities to businesses.
"Instead of national authorities having to justify concern about particular chemicals, the responsibility for proving that their products are safe will now rest with the manufacturers," said Chris Davies, environment spokesperson for the liberal democrats (ALDE).