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EU nations approve chemical rules, ending three years of talks

European Union governments approved stricter rules for chemicals used in goods from shirts to mobile telephones, removing the last obstacle to one of the EU's biggest-ever pieces of legislation.

Environment ministers from the 25-nation EU agreed to require manufacturers and importers to register chemicals in Europe's $800 billion market. Businesses will also need to test substances and get authorization for the most toxic ones under the law, aimed at curbing maladies such as allergies and bladder cancer. „This is the most far-reaching chemicals legislation in the world and will improve consumer safety,” EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said today in Brussels, where the ministers endorsed the legislation.
Their approval was a formality after the European Parliament gave its backing on December 13, more than three years after the law was proposed by the European Commission, the EU's regulatory arm. The EU says greater regulation of chemicals will prevent as many as 4,500 deaths a year and reduce health-care spending by at least €50 billion ($66 billion) over three decades. The new rules will cost producers and users as much as €5.2 billion over 15 years, the commission said when it proposed the legislation in October 2003.

The law shifts the burden of proof to companies. Under the current system, about two-thirds of 140 potentially high-risk substances on the market before 1981 failed to undergo full assessments and 70% of newer, high-volume chemicals tested proved to be dangerous, according to the commission. The new legislation will compel businesses such as Germany's BASF AG, the world's largest chemical company, to register about 30% of the 100,000 chemicals used in Europe with a new agency over 11 years.
All chemicals produced or imported in volumes of more than one metric ton a year will be covered. Companies will also have to test chemicals and win authorization for the most toxic substances, numbering around 1,500. Permission to use the most hazardous chemicals will require outlining plans to phase them out and develop safer substitutes. The obligations under the legislation will be phased in from next June. (Bloomberg)