companies oppose major safety-law change
officials and chemicals industry lobbyists are fighting a proposed
European Union law that would fundamentally change its approach
to safety, forcing manufacturers to conduct extensive tests on chemicals
they want to use or make.
companies, the largest U.S. concentration of which are in New Jersey,
would have to seek approvals for 30,000 chemicals already in use,
similar to standards facing pharmaceuticals companies.
going to be an overwhelming task," Joe Mayhew, vice president
of regulatory affairs for the American Chemistry Council. "There
are a lot of tests in there, with very exhaustive requirements."
Europe and the United States, chemicals makers get the benefit of
the scientific doubt. Government regulators must show a chemical
is harmful if they wish to ban it, and where science is uncertain,
government doesn't act. The proposed regulations are a flash point
in a larger debate about the "precautionary principle,"
a philosophy that says if science isn't certain of whether a substance
is harmful, it shouldn't be allowed.
EU embraced the principle during 2000, and has employed it to fight
U.S. imports of genetically modified crops and hormone-treated beef.
Environmentalists and industry experts agree the proposed chemicals
law, called Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals,
would be the most aggressive application yet of the precautionary
Bush administration has joined with the chemicals industry in fighting
the proposal. U.S. diplomats were instructed to protest the proposal,
calling it "costly, burdensome and complex," according
to a memo from Secretary of State Colin Powell that was first reported
by the Chicago Tribune and confirmed by the U.S. State Department.
"(The proposed law) would be grounded on the problematic 'precautionary
principle,'" Powell wrote. "U.S. exports in most industrial
sectors -- totaling tens of billions of dollars -- could be impacted
by the new policy."
Schneider, a spokesman for the Washington delegation of the European
Commission -- the EU's executive branch -- said the proposal is
sensible environmental policy.
a principle of common sense, to Europeans anyway," Schneider
said. "I think it's a cultural difference. If there is a scientific
uncertainty as to the nature of a risk, we say to those in public
office charged with protecting public health that they have a duty
to respond and not wait until their fears are realized, until the
worst is happening."
think Americans are more daring," Schneider said. "As
long as there's no known risk, they go ahead."
Jersey's 793 chemicals manufacturers employ 93,900 workers, more
than any other state's chemical sector, according to the American
Chemistry Council. Annual production reaches $26 billion, including
$7.2 billion in exports, the council found in a 2002 study.
say the U.S. chemicals industry could survive and even thrive under
the proposal, since the regulations would encourage innovation,
removing an incentive to use old, outdated chemicals that have been
grandfathered under modern testing requirements.
a common-sense approach to managing chemicals," said Daryl
Ditz, a chemical engineer and senior program officer in the World
Wildlife Fund's toxics program. "The way we've been doing this
is letting them go, then getting a bad lesson, then trying to mop
and other environmentalists have long pushed for more precaution
in government regulation. Time and again, they say, inadequately
tested chemicals have turned out to be dangerous. Ditz cited examples
like polybrominated diphenyl ether, a flame retardant used in foam
furniture padding and the plastic housing around computers and television
sets. It has recently been detected in mothers' breast milk, fish
and sewage sludge. Scientists aren't certain of its toxicity.
proposed legislation runs 1,200 pages, but it is often boiled down
to four words: "No data, no market." The 30,000 or so
existing chemicals, more than 95 percent of which predate the testing
requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 -- the
foundation of U.S. chemical regulation -- would have to be tested
and approved during an 11-year period ending during 2012.
said he expects the proposal to become law in some form, though
that could take two years or longer. Its immediate cost to the U.S.
chemicals industry would be $7 billion, with long-term costs rising
to many times that, he said.
cost of compliance is one thing, but when you lose products because
of a lack of authorization the cost would be really large,"
Mayhew said. "The numbers begin to multiply."
better approach, he said, would be risk-analysis. That has long
been the foundation of environmental policy, and involves selecting
specific substances or practices thought to be dangerous and subjecting
them to extra scrutiny.
Graham, the regulatory czar at the Office of Management and Budget
in charge of evaluating regulations, is one of the architects of
risk analysis. He formerly headed the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis,
and in a speech to European regulators referred to the precautionary
principle as "a mythical concept, perhaps like a unicorn."
Montague, Director of the New Brunswick-based Environmental Research
Foundation and a major proponent of the precautionary principle,
said risk analysis has never worked well. Industry introduces substances
far faster than scientists can understand them, and regulators are
left trying to catch up to environmental and health problems long
after the damage has been done.
seems to be the picture of environmental contamination, the knowledge
of ill effects seems to be growing much faster than the regulatory
system is able to gain control of these materials," Montague
said. "We have to prevent these problems rather than manage
them after the fact."
Lane covers the environment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (973) 392-1790.