Controlling chemicals – Protecting human health and the environment
Chemicals are a fact of modern life: almost all the products we use on a daily
basis are either made from them or contain them. But without proper controls,
they can be dangerous. Unsurprisingly, Europe’s lawmakers have always
taken an extremely serious approach towards policies surrounding chemicals.
And as a result, EU citizens benefit from some of the toughest chemicals safety
laws in the world.
In 1967, the first major European law on chemicals was passed, creating the
familiar square orange labels used to identify potentially dangerous products,
and thereby streamlining the labelling system throughout an emerging single
market. Since then, EU legislation has systematically banned numerous harmful
chemicals within many industries, including pesticides such as DDT and phthalates
in children’s toys.
Today, a groundbreaking new law on the registration, evaluation, authorisation
and restriction of chemicals (REACH) has effected a fundamental shift in the
way EU chemicals policy works. Before REACH, legislators had to prove a substance
was dangerous. Now, crucially, the burden of proof has been reversed. The new
law, agreed at the end of 2006, obliges the companies themselves to show how
the chemicals they use or sell can be handled safely.