REACH is a new European Union (“EU”) regulation on chemicals use. The legislation, now known officially as Regulation No. 1907/2006, concerns the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances. REACH represents a major reform of EU chemical policy, and implementation will take place gradually over the next 10 to 15 years. Although REACH became effective in June 2007, the key obligation to pre-register a company’s chemical products begins on June 1, 2008. At that point, registration will be required for all substances (whether basic chemicals or chemicals contained in prepared materials or goods), defined in article 3(A) of the regulation, that are manufactured or imported into the EU in quantities of one ton or more per registrant per year, unless explicitly exempted. The potential impact of REACH is significant since covered substances include not only potentially hazardous industrial chemicals but also every other type of chemical substance. Companies will need to perform an in-depth analysis of the regulation to determine whether their products fall within REACH’s scope.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) (http://ec.europa.eu/echa) in Helsinki will be the central point of the REACH system, and manufacturers and importers will submit their chemical registrations to ECHA. Among other things, the agency will co-ordinate the evaluation of suspicious chemicals and operate a public database in which

Even non-EU companies that have no direct obligations under REACH must nevertheless provide information to allow EU importers of their products to comply with REACH. To that end, ECHA advises exporters to: (1) create an inventory of all covered substances exported to the EU that conforms to REACH criteria; and (2) identify for each such substance the likely volume per EU importer. Non-EU companies that export covered substances to the EU also have the option of appointing an “only representative” within the EU to carry out importer obligations. The “only representative” must fulfill the substance registration requirements and comply with all other importer obligations under REACH.

In light of these provisions, it is not surprising that REACH presents a major challenge for the entire chemical industry. That challenge is not unintentional: one of REACH’s key goals is to transfer responsibility for the safe use of chemicals from government authorities to the chemical industry. At least for the initial phase, the main responsibility for REACH compliance lies with EU manufacturers and importers. However, if EU importers do not comply with REACH’s requirements, U.S. exports to the EU may be at risk. Thus, U.S. companies who export chemicals, chemical formulations, or articles containing those substances to EU importers should take immediate steps to verify REACH compliance and avoid potential business disruption in the future.