EU chemicals law REACH inspires US bill

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg has introduced a bill to regulate chemicals in the US after a government report criticised current legislation for failing to protect Americans from toxic substances.

US Senator Frank R. Lautenberg introduced draft legislation aiming at better protecting children, mothers and workers against potentially hazardous chemicals. 

Introduced on 13 July, the ‘Child, Worker and Consumer Safe Chemicals Act’ is largely inspired by the hotly debated EU proposal for the registration, evaluation, and authorisation of chemicals (REACH) now at final stage of adoption before the European Parliament. 

The draft US bill would force chemical manufacturers to provide health and safety information on chemicals used in consumer products like baby bottles and food wrapping instead of presuming a substance is safe until proven dangerous.

The principle, know as the reversal of the burden of proof, is the cornerstone of REACH.  

Senator Lautenberg’s proposal follows the publication in June of a US federal report detailing the failures of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in protecting Americans from hazardous chemicals.

The report, by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), recommended that the US congress consider providing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with additional authority to assess chemical risks.

According to Lautenberg, procedures under the TSCA are so daunting that, in 29 years, only five toxic substances have been regulated by the EPA. Currently, the EPA has to demonstrate a chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to restrict or ban it.

Positions

"Most Americans believe their government is making sure that chemicals used in the market place are safe. Unfortunately, that simply isn't true," said Senator Lautenberg. "Study after study has shown we have dozens, if not hundreds, of synthetic chemicals in our bodies, yet we have very little information about how they impact our health."

The bill is sponsored by Democrat political heavyweights including 2004 Presidential candidate John Kerry and Hillary Clinton

In a separate development, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) on 14 July published analyses of the blood from the umbilical cord of ten newborn babies. Performed by an independent laboratory, the tests revealed the presence of 287 industrial chemicals in the blood samples tested, leading the EWG to conclude that "industrial pollution begins in the womb". However, the correct interpretation of blood tests - a practice know as biomonitoring - and their use in policy-making is still subject to controversy (see related LinksDossier).

Background

Since its introduction in October 2003, the EU's REACH proposal has been the stage for an unprecedented lobbying battle pitting environmental campaigners against industry. 

The US administration has so far been critical of REACH, as was revealed in a 2004 US senate report detailing the tactics used by the Bush administration and the US chemical industry to amend the draft EU law. The report mentions a cable sent by then Secretary of State Colin Powell directing US diplomatic posts to "raise the EU chemicals policy" as "a costly, burdensome, and complex regulatory system".

Timeline

  • 4 October 2005: Parliament's Environment Committee vote on REACH
  • 26 October 2005: Tentative date for Parliament plenary vote on REACH

Further Reading