In December 2006 the European Parliament approved new legislation relating to chemicals, aimed at making producers and importers of chemicals prove that substances they put on the market are safe for consumers. The directive has been billed as the most complicated piece of legislation to ever come out of Brussels and was described as ‘one of the most complicated texts in the history of the EU’ by European Parliament President Josep Borrell. He said it ’offers EU citizens true protection against the multitude of toxic subtances in everyday life in Europe.’

The aim is for a comprehensive system for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH) to ensure that the chemicals in daily use are not a risk to human health or environment. Producers will have to register all the chemical substances produced or imported above a total quantity of 1 tonne per year. It is expected that this will affect about 30,000 substances. For more hazardous substances producers will have to submit a plan to replace them with safer alternatives and if none are available they will have to submit a plan aimed at finding them.

The regulations will enter into force in June 2007 and registration is expected to take 11 years to complete. REACH also creates a new Chemicals Agency which will be based in Helsinki which will have responsibility for the registration and authorisation process.

The UK government announced in October 2006 that the HSE will oversee the new regime on the regulation of chemicals. The HSE launched a REACH helpdesk in October to offer support for UK businesses in the run up to the implementation of the regulations. In addition to running the help desk the HSE will monitor compliance with the regulations, evaluate substances of concern, coordinate UK enforcement and take regulatory action against those found to be breaching the regulations.