Two major initiatives have just been released to impose European REACH-like regulations on the US manufacturing sector:
1. July 25, 2012: Sen. Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, S. 847 (aka TSCA Reform) was reported by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on a 10-8 party line vote.
The European REACH rules are explicitly based on the Precautionary Principle, whose underlying presumption is that all chemicals are toxic unless proved otherwise. Under REACH the mere presence of a toxic chemical is unacceptable, regardless of how critical it is to manufacturing and whether or not it presents any actual risk. This leads to the Substitution Principle, that one must always search for less-toxic alternatives, which makes sense in principle (who would use a toxic material if a benign alternative could do exactly the same thing). But in the real world, where no two chemical do exactly the same thing, this approach leads to a never-ending quest, since every chemical (even air and water) is toxic at a high enough dose. REACH is in effect a tax on manufacturers around the world. Its worst effects are just beginning to be felt in Europe, creating huge costs, risks and uncertainties for all manufacturers and leading us to expect that it will ultimately drive most manufacturing out of the EU.
US environmental regulations are built on the presumption that chemicals must be proved to be toxic before being restricted or banned. They are also based on cost-benefit and risk – the mere existence of a hazardous chemical is not a problem, what matters is whether it presents a real risk to humans or the environment, and whether the benefits of regulation are worth the costs.
Although neither the proposed SCA nor the SCPA regulations reference the PP, they are both modeled on REACH and impose the Precautionary Principle. In fact, reading the information behind the SCPA states that DTSC intends to use it as a vehicle for applying the Precautionary Principle. (DTSC’s website proudly showcases its Director as “the architect of San Francisco’s groundbreaking Precautionary Principle legislation [who] spearheaded the citywide adoption of a precautionary approach to environmental decision-making”.)
The Safe Chemicals Act is clearly modeled on REACH and will impose costs and uncertainties on US manufacturing similar to those that REACH imposes in Europe. Both REACH and the SCA claim to be aimed at encouraging innovation, but the complexity and cost of SCA will crush the development of innovative materials and innovative uses of existing materials in the US just as effectively as REACH is doing in Europe. This is especially true for the small, entrepreneurial companies that typically develop the most innovative materials products.
The best approach for manufacturers is to keep ahead of the competition and regulation by staying aware of what is coming down the pike and what are the best manufacturing options for both the short and long term (see REACH Solutions).