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Chemicals legislation in the EU and US

Just as toxic chemicals are complex and wide reaching, so is the legislation set up to regulate them.

This was not always the case. For decades chemicals were hardly regulated at all, with some specific exemptions[1], and the vast majority of chemicals could be used without the need to provide evidence they were safe. If a substance was identified as a severe toxic pollutant, it was more based on coincidence rather than systematic scrutiny. No general testing of chemicals for harmful properties was required.

This has slightly changed in recent years. The EU has enforced REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), a comprehensive legal framework that address all chemicals in use, requiring companies marketing chemicals to present a set of test data. The US equivalent, TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act), set some basic requirements but is much more limited in scope.

[1] Regulations existed for functional groups where legislators had obvious reasons to intervene – pesticides (designed to kill!), biocides, food additives (we eat them!) and cosmetics (we use them on our bodies).


In 2007 the European Union introduced a comprehensive framework legislation for chemicals, called Reach. It requires that companies manufacturing or importing chemicals register them with a central agency (ECHA, based In Finland). With the registration, companies also need to report basic properties of the chemical, and if produced/imported in larger volumes, also information indicating if the substance is hazardous. The purpose is to make producers and importers responsible for the products the market and enhance knowledge about the chemicals used. The Reach regulation also contains a system for “authorized use only” of chemicals of high health and environmental concern.

More about Reach here.



The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is a US regulation that addresses the manufacturing, processing, distribution, use, and disposal of commercial and industrial chemicals. Introduced in 1976, It focuses mainly on new substances introduced after TSCA was introduced.


– RoHS

RoHS is a European Union Directive introduced in 2006 to restricts use of certain hazardous chemicals in the manufacture of electronic and electrical equipment. It currently bans or restricts ten substances/substance groups; 4 heavy metals, 4 phthalates, and 2 groups of brominated flame retardants.

More about RoHS here.


– California Prop. 69.

In 1986, the State of California introduced the “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act”, but more often referred to as “Proposition 65”. It requires the State to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. The list is frequently updated and presently include approximately 800 chemicals. The law requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. Proposition 65 also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.