On June 1, 2007, the controversial new EU Regulation for the Registration, Evaluation and Restriction on Chemicals (“REACH”) came into force to regulate the use of chemicals in consumer products, including apparel, fragrances and cosmetics.  The regulation’s most important goals are to improve the protection of human health and the environment while enhancing the innovative capability of the EU chemicals industry.  Although European companies will be primarily hit by this regulation, US manufacturers exporting in the EU market must be in compliance as well.

REACH will create a single legal system for all chemical substances.  Since 1981, new chemicals have undergone obligatory tests before being placed on the market.  Under REACH, the burden of proof for demonstrating the safe use of chemicals is placed on the chemicals industry.  Hence, companies will now need to prove the safety of thousands of chemicals previously not regulated.

Specifically, manufacturers and importers will be required to gather comprehensive information on the properties of more than 30,000 identified chemical substances produced or imported in quantities higher than one ton per year in the EU.  In addition, REACH calls for the registration of such information in a central database run by the newly established European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki (http://ec.europa.eu/echa).  The Agency will manage the databases necessary to operate the system, co-ordinate the in-depth evaluation of the chemicals and run a public database where consumers and professionals can find hazard information.  Registrants also have to identify appropriate risk management measures and communicate them to the Agency.  The registration procedure will involve the submission of a dossier containing information on the chemical substances used and guidance on how to handle them safely.  The time period in which manufacturers and importers of chemical substances must register depends on the quantities of substances produced or imported.  Manufacturers and importers who fail to register in time will no longer be able to manufacture in or import that substance to the EU market.

Many players in the fashion and beauty industry, which lobbied the legislation for years, view REACH as a good compromise.  For instance, France’s Federation des Industries de la Parfumerie, an organization representing 250 beauty companies, pointed out that “such regulation can only reinforce consumer confidence in today’s consumer products, including cosmetics”.  Other supporters in the fragrance industry said that REACH was an important step to sustain the industry’s future.  Opponents argue that it will be costly for the fashion and beauty industry to comply with REACH and “for the smaller players, it’s a nightmare”.  Furthermore, REACH could affect product pricing and the availability of certain substances for existing beauty products, particularly fragrances where a scent formula consists of 200 to 400 ingredients.  The European Commission estimated that it would cost the chemical industry between EUR 2.3 billion and EUR 5.2 billion over the next decade to comply with its new obligations under REACH.