As reported by the Hartford Business Journal, February 4, 2008.

EU Gets Tough on U.S. Imports

State Manufacturers Forced to Adapt to New European Regulations that Ban Toxic Chemicals

By Mary Johnson

As the public grows increasingly aware that potentially hazardous chemicals are found in commonly used products — such as shampoo, upholstery, and children’s toys — it has become more than a health or environmental concern.

It is also a financial matter, particularly for a state that exported $5.48 billion to Europe in 2006.

Aggressive new chemical regulations adopted by the European Union aim to rid its member countries of products containing toxic chemicals. As a result, the regulations are forcing Connecticut companies that export to the EU to adapt—and eliminate from their manufacturing processes what could be several thousand harmful chemicals.

It could also force Connecticut manufacturers to replace the chemicals they use with safer alternatives that would reduce negative environmental and health effects.

To help these companies cope with the impending changes, the University of Connecticut Health Center is sponsoring a conference this week to highlight changing chemical policies and ways for local businesses to deal with them.

The new European legislation, called REACH, stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances. It went into effect last summer and will be implemented in stages over the coming years. In essence, it calls for companies to register what chemicals they use and how much. The EU will analyze the chemicals and eventually forbid those it deems harmful or toxic from entering its member countries. That could oust several thousand chemicals from Europe-bound products. And if outside companies want to keep doing business in Europe, they’ve got to find safer alternatives to toxic ingredients.

“[REACH] can affect a pretty wide range of companies,” said Tim Morse, an occupational and environmental expert from UConn Health Center. “I think it’s going to … have this wave of reevaluation chemical use.”

“[The EU] policies are really going to drive international commerce,” he added. “We’re used to the U.S. being the leader in regulation.”

While in other issues the United States leads the regulatory bandwagon, Morse said it is surprisingly lenient in the realm of chemical regulations.

In fact, U.S. chemical producers and the United States government had lobbied against REACH, which they say will adversely affect most goods exported to the EU.

Not Tested
Of the 3,000 most-used chemicals in the United States, Morse said 40 percent haven’t been fully tested. Of 80,000 other common chemicals, most haven’t been tested at all.

“Clearly, the EU is far ahead of us, at least in terms of chemical regulation,” he said.

Among the Connecticut business affected by the new regulations is Hartford-based conglomerate United Technologies Corp., which is also a co-sponsor of this week’s conference.

“I just want to go [to the conference] and listen to what’s happening out there, what have some other people done,” said Paul Vitello, director of environmental programs of UTC’s Corporate Employee Health & Safety. “I don’t know that a lot of people understand how encompassing REACH is.”

Vitello said UTC began its own internal chemical analysis years ago and identified five chemicals that should be removed from all its products. REACH does the same thing, he added, but for every chemical.

“Our general approach to sustainability is to eliminate adverse impacts in products,” Vitello said. “It’s been part of our goals and objectives, and we’re going to keep doing it.”

REACH is in its first phase, which requires every company that ships products to the European Union or any product in such a supply chain to register all chemicals they use and in what amounts. After environmental and health impacts are assessed, the EU will decide what chemicals it will shut out from its countries.

New Chemistry
But chemical expulsion won’t be without exceptions. If safer alternatives exist, the transition timeline will be shorter. But if no viable alternatives exist, the EU will allow more time. In fact, it could take decades to see the regulations take full effect—time for revolutionary chemical creations to be concocted.

A new realm of possibility lies in green chemistry, a new twist on an old process.

“By designing new chemicals and materials, you’re increasing performance and capability and profitability and making things safer,” said Paul Anastas, director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale. “It’s amazing what’s going on right now.”

Anastas and John Warner, professor and director of the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, are widely considered the fathers of green chemistry. Both will appear at the conference this week.

Green chemistry is basically the production of environmentally friendly chemicals, safer chemicals that could replace their more dangerous and pervasive counterparts.

Rather than spending money to cover up chemical discharges, said Anastas, green chemistry can eliminate the problem in the first phases of composition.

The concept is growing in popularity in both industry and education, Anastas said. He’s seen promising response among students at Yale, and there’s economic potential, too.

“This is a big part of the green jobs area,” he said. “For every one green chemical that exists, there’s perhaps 10 or 100 that have yet to be addressed or invested.”

The conference will be held Thursday, Feb. 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Northeast Utilities Conference Center in Berlin.