Powell in chemical reaction as US resists EU pollution drive

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Colin Powell, the outgoing US Secretary of State, is leading determined lobbying against the Europe Union's plans to control potential chemical threats to human health and the environment.

The EU is proposing that companies manufacturing and importing substances with a production volume of 1 ton or more should register them in a single place. They should also be required to assess the risks arising from their use and to take measures to manage any risk they identify. The US government has said that it "has concerns about the implementation and compliance costs associated with the [programme]".

According to the European Commission, its Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (Reach) directive would replace over 40 existing EU directives and regulations. The number of substances on the market in 1981 was over 100,000. Some 30,000 will now have to be registered. There is also a growing awareness of chemicals affecting health and nature.

Mr Powell has sent a cable to American embassies and consulates in Europe in an effort to combat the programme. The 11-paragraph "action request" says that Reach could affect virtually all American exports.

US exports to the EU stood at more than $150bn (£79bn) in 2003. The cable quotes a report claiming that, under the directive, the French cosmetics industry would have to reformulate 100 per cent of its products.

The American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union takes a similar line. In a paper on "The European Chemicals Policy Revolution", it argues that: "Reach, as proposed, will impose excessive burdens and exaggerated costs on industry and generate an overwhelming bureaucracy. This will stifle innovation".

According to Greenpeace, the Bush administration is attacking Reach "vehemently, in one of the most aggressive foreign lobby efforts ever to influence a proposed piece of EU legislation."

Greenpeace cites a US Congressional report taking the environmentalists' viewpoint. This concluded that the Bush administration, "at the request of the US chemical industry, mounted a campaign to block the efforts of the European Union to regulate chemical companies".

Economic ministers from European countries met in Brussels last week to discuss a radical simplification of the draft rules for the registration of substances.

Some important companies are taking the move to safer chemicals seriously.

Nokia has committed itself to phasing out brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and PVC plastic in its mobile phones, and Unilever has confirmed that its new personal care products in Europe do not contain chemicals such as most phthalates, "nitro musks" or "polycyclic musks". Samsung recently made commitments to manufacture products free of hazardous chemicals.

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