Environmental Defense Fund, in cooperation with Pollution Probe in Canada, released a report on industrial chemicals policies in 2007. “Not That Innocent: A Comparative Analysis of Canadian, European Union and United States Policies on Industrial Chemicals” [PDF] provided a comprehensive comparison of the European Union’s new REACH regulation with existing policies in the United States and Canada that govern industrial chemicals.1
Identifying “best practices”
The report identifies “best practices” that draw on the most effective features of the three policies with respect to how well they protect human health and the environment. Best practices are offered for each of six core functions of any chemicals policy, pinpointing how an ideal policy should approach:
- identifying and prioritizing chemicals of concern;
- identifying and tracking chemicals and their production and use;
- facilitating or requiring the generation and submission of risk-relevant information;
- assessing information to determine hazard/exposure/risk;
- imposing controls to mitigate risk; and
- sharing and disclosing information and protecting confidential business information.
Taken together, these best practices offer a blueprint for chemicals policy reforms that are critical to addressing both long-standing deficiencies and newly emerging concerns with respect to how government manages the potential risks of industrial chemicals.
Such chemicals are ubiquitous in our world today — they propel the manufacture of virtually every material we use and are used in the tens of thousands of consumer and commercial products we consume every day. We now know that some of these chemicals have accumulated in the bodies of virtually all people, as well as in wildlife and the ecosystems of the remotest regions on Earth. Yet we are only beginning to understand how they got there and what their presence means to our — and our planet’s — health.
Designing effective policies
The report places the three policies within a larger a paradigm shift taking place in industrial chemicals policies away from the strong “presumption of innocence” that has been granted to the great majority of industrial chemicals — a shift reflecting the reality that many of these chemicals have been found to be … not that innocent! The trend is toward policies that are knowledge-driven, that reward rather than penalize the development of better information about chemical risks, and require sufficient information to provide a reasonable assurance of safety.
Such policies also place more of the burden of providing and acting on that information on those who stand to profit financially from the production and use of chemicals, and are arguably in the best position to internalize such information and use it from the outset to design out risk from their products.