In June 2007, the controversial new REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) law came into effect in the European Union. Taking seven years and 1,000 pages to pass, REACH is the most complex law in EU history.
Law Ensures Consumer Protection
Aiming to protect consumers and the environment from harmful and unsafe chemicals, the law requires manufacturers to ensure that over 30,000 chemicals have been tested and reviewed by the newly created European Chemicals Agency (EChA). For 1,500 high risk substances, manufacturers will have to prove “adequate control.” The EChA will ban ingredients posing a significant threat and ensure that cosmetic and other companies use alternatives.
Alternatives to Animal Tests
The law also advocates using alternatives to animal testing, so that data on toxicity to humans is obtained using means other than experiments on vertebrate animals. Since the passage of REACH, L’Oreal has announced that it will conduct safety tests on human skin cells and tissue from animals slaughtered for food, rather than live animals, to collect the new information required by the law.
REACH replaces 40 separate chemicals laws in the EU. It also extends prior cosmetics laws that were based upon risk assessment and responds to ongoing calls from the scientific community for bans on confirmed and likely carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances in cosmetic products.
Although there was little existing safety information on 99% of the man thousands of chemicals developed in the EU before 1981, the EU had banned several dangerous chemicals that remain legal in the United States, including phthalates in cosmetics.
Tougher Controls on Toxic Chemicals
REACH is expected to put more pressure on law makers in the United States to impose tougher controls on the usage of toxic chemicals, since under the country’s Toxic Substances Control Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has little legal authority to ban or restrict chemicals in use before 1976 because it must first prove they pose “an unreasonable risk.”
It should be noted, however, that there are several shortcomings to the new European law. First, manufacturers have 11 years to register product ingredients, leaving more than a decade until all the ingredients in cosmetics products will be fully disclosed. Also, if a product was manufactured outside the EU and imported, it is not regulated under REACH.