Across the Pond: How Europe's rules affect U.S.

EDF report identifies U.S. companies making hazardous chemicals

Hundreds of companies located in the U.S. produce or import hundreds of chemicals designated as dangerous by the European Union. These chemicals are being produced in the U.S. in large amounts and at many different sites. (See tables for company, state and chemical listings.)

These are the main findings of our report, Across the Pond [PDF]. They provided compelling evidence for the U.S. Congress to protect public health by reforming the nation’s primary chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act.

EU adopts new rules

In 2006, the European Union adopted its sweeping chemicals regulation — Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) — under which companies must register all chemicals they place on the EU market in annual amounts above one metric ton.

A hallmark of REACH is its identification of so-called “substances of very high concern” (SVHCs). REACH’s intent is ultimately to allow use of such SVHCs only when each use has been specifically authorized.

To jumpstart that process, European environmental nongovernmental organizations developed a list of chemicals that meet REACH’s criteria used to identify SVHCs.

Ripple effects in the U.S.

Across the Pond [PDF] examines the extent to which these SVHCs are produced in or imported into the U.S., and by which companies, in which states, and in what amounts. It also examines how many of these chemicals have been tested or regulated in the U.S. The analysis concludes that, as of 2009:

  • Dangerous chemicals (SVHCs) are produced or imported in 37 states as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, at as many as 78 sites per state.
  • At least 85 SVHCs are produced and imported annually in amounts of one million or more pounds, and at least 14 exceed one billion pounds annually in the U.S.
  • Only about a third of such chemicals have been tested under the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
  • Only two of these SVHCs — asbestos and hexavalent chromium — have been subjected to any regulation in the U.S., and even then only for very narrow uses of these dangerous substances.

Taken together, our findings suggest that REACH’s designation of SVHCs can be expected to have a major impact on chemical production and use in the U.S. and on the companies that make, export or import chemicals.