The world’s most extensive chemical safety regulation, implemented five years ago in Europe, is working well, according to a review published today by the European Commission.
The law, known as REACH (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals), requires companies that produce or sell chemicals in the European Union (EU) to register toxicity data on the compounds and to outline any new tests needed to clarify their biological effects.
According to the review, the law has improved the available information about chemical substances on the market and upgraded risk management measures implemented by companies, thereby reducing the risks these substances pose to the EU population, the review says.
REACH is also making EU citizens feel safer — 61% of people interviewed in a survey of more than 25,000 said that chemicals are safer now than they were ten years ago.
Janez Potočnik, EU commissioner for the environment, said: “This report shows that REACH works. Companies are facing their responsibilities and as a result we have better data about the chemicals they produce and place on the market.”
But the report concedes that it is still too early to quantify the benefits of the regulation. The commission’s conclusions are based mainly on examination of initial trends and qualitative information.
Improvements to the law’s implementation are also needed, it says. These include reducing the registration and processing fees for small business to more evenly spread the financial burden of the regulation. The review also found that member states need to make more effort to ensure that companies comply with the law.
Nature has previously reported on a host of problems that have plagued REACH. Among those issues was that European companies were not providing robust information on the safety of chemicals, and that they were avoiding proposing expensive animal tests.
Animal-welfare groups criticized the review, adding that the law has failed in its goal of promoting alternatives to animal experiments. In a statement, the London-based European Coalition to End Animal Experiments said, “We are seeing routine additional requests for animal tests in some areas, and a lack of leadership… on the promotion of alternative methods that already exist.”