European and U.S. consumers face the same dilemma concerning the number of harmful chemicals they are exposed to at home, in the garden and at the office. Current laws on both sides of the Atlantic focus on ensuring the safety of new chemicals before they are placed on the market, but fail to regulate the tens of thousands of older chemicals that have been on the market for decades. Little data is publicly available about the potential hazards posed by these older chemicals, which constitute the vast majority of those in the stream of commerce.
In response to this frightening lack of information, the European Union (EU) has proposed a cutting-edge chemical safety policy called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restrictions of Chemicals). The goal of REACH is to test and regulate 30,000 chemicals, old and new, produced in excess of one metric ton (a portion of the estimated 100,000 chemicals on the U.S. and European markets). Consumer, environmental and public health groups on both sides of the Atlantic have applauded REACH as a long-overdue chemical safety measure. Unfortunately, the Bush Adminstration’s response to the policy has been to aggressively attack the policy as a "barrier to trade."
The U.S. Commerce and State Departments teamed up with the chemical industry to launch an aggressive transatlantic lobbying campaign aimed at gutting REACH. Industry claims that the required toxicity testing is too costly and burdensome. U.S. trade officials claim the policy is an illegal "barrier to trade" impeding the free flow of chemicals across borders, and that this transatlantic dispute will "dwarf" the dispute over genetically modified foods. In fact, even before the legislation was finalized, the U.S. had filed papers complaining about the policy at the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, despite this opposition, REACH is set to take effect in June 2007.