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Regulations do work

Posted 08/05/2012 by sevans

With all the concerns about chemical regulation and control in the EU in the run up to the REACH Stakeholder Forum in Helsinki later this month, it is easy to overlook the purpose of such regulations. Indeed, evidence for the positive effect of such regulation is often elusive, or even impossible to find.

The latest news from the EU health commissioner John Dalli is therefore welcome at least from the point of view of a positive outcome. Dalli has reported that in 2011 Europe saw the first fall in the number of toys and textiles containing hazardous materials and textile on the shelves of Europe’s shops and stores. The number of unsafe products banned, withdrawn or recalled fell 20% in 2011 to 1,803 items, compared with a 13% increase in the previous year.

Dalli attributes this significant reduction to better policing and improved cooperation with countries like China, which is said to be responsible for more than half of these items. China was responsible for 54% of all notifications of such dangerous goods in 2011, down from 58% in 2010, but as the European Commission points out ‘this still very high number’ results from the high market penetration of Chinese goods in Europe. Another contributor of dangerous goods highlighted by the Commission is Turkey but the EU itself does not escape criticism, with 19% of the goods reportedly made in the EU, with France, Germany and Italy being the main offenders.

The removal of dangerous goods from the EU falls under a rapid alert system called RAPEX, which was introduced in 2004. The system facilitates the rapid transfer of information about dangerous goods around the EU member states, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. But such controls do not come cheap – the Commission has committed up to €100m to achieving this first drop in notifications of dangerous non-food goods.

Cost is very much uppermost in the minds of the chemical industry executives involved in the implementation of the REACH regulations. Many in the European chemical industry still remain unconvinced about the likely positive impact of REACH – particularly in view of the spiralling cost to the industry of their implementation.  While it is still too early to expect any positive news about the impact of REACH, one would like to hope that this latest news can provide some comfort that the EU is at least looking outside its own borders and not just focusing on its own industries to their competitive detriment as many in the chemical industry believe.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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