The REACH program from the European Union is an incredibly far reaching (no pun intended, of course!) effort to catalog the effects of chemical compounds on human health. I came across this interesting article at Environmental Science and Technology.
ES&T Online News: Will the EU’s REACH serve researchers’ needs?
Europe’s new chemicals law, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals), will put about $13 billion worth of data on 30,000 substances onto a searchable database made available at no cost on the Internet. It sounds like a dream come true for researchers wanting to design new compounds free of the structures that cause human health hazards. But lack of funding for basic research and concerns about the competence of toxicity tests have dampened expectations among some scientists.
Well, D’uh, any program that big is bound to have some problems. But the shifting of burden of proof away from the regulators to industry is a big deal and will lead to a lot of self regulation. Companies will have to prove that their chemicals are safe.
John Warner, a synthetic organic chemist at the University of Massachusetts, says REACH will be effective at pushing companies to select safer alternatives that are already on the market. But for the many reagents and solvents that have no safe alternatives, safe molecules must be designed, and REACH is not structured to promote the design work, Warner says.
Yes, this is an effort to regulate existing and new chemical entities, not an initiative to spur innovation. From the REACH site:
The REACH Regulation gives greater responsibility to industry
to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information
on the substances. Manufacturers and importers will be required
to gather information on the properties of their substances,
which will help them manage them safely, and to register the
information in a central database.
The innovation is going to be market driven by the fear of this regulation. Maybe we will start calling it OVERREACH!