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Registering Some Problems With REACH

The Wall Street Journal reports today that U.S. and European firms were unsuccessful in an attempt to make the proposed chemicals policy in Europe more affordable during committee consideration of the bill in the EU Parliament. But even if business had succeeded in reducing paperwork costs, the policy would still have adverse effects around the world. The program, known as REACH—for the registration, authorization, and evaluation of chemicals—would require companies to register chemicals they produce, import, or use. The paperwork alone will be expensive, but the program is also likely to produce expensive bans and other regulations on many chemicals. Industry has continually tried to make REACH a more reasonable program, but unfortunately they are fighting a losing battle. The problem is that REACH is fundamentally flawed and thus, cannot be fixed. First, REACH attempts to address unknown/yet-to-be discovered, low-level chemical risks, while other laws already sufficiently address higher priority, identified risks, according to EU Commission studies. As a result, it's unlikely that REACH will produce any substantial benefits because the public exposures it addresses are insignificant and undetectable. However, REACH will likely lead to unjustified bans of valuable products—which could prove dangerous. In the past, similarly misguided bans have produced devastating impacts. The prime example is bans around the world on the pesticide DDT, which have contributed to millions of deaths from malaria for the last several decades. The other fundamental problem with REACH is that it depends on a misguided faith in centralized, bureaucratic management. History has demonstrated the failure of such systems, and REACH is no different. As a result, the REACH registration process is destined to become an expensive exercise in bureaucratic futility.