This is the first of a two-part article looking at the European Union’s coming REACH legislation.
The European Union’s (EU) Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) regulation is moving through legislation bodies toward law even as business and chemical industry groups fight to quash it. REACH has been called “RoHS on steroids” because if its potential to force the electronics industry to revamp components to avoid the inclusion of toxic chemicals not addressed by RoHS.
REACH looks at the overall use of chemicals in consumer products, so it is not aimed specifically at the electronics industry. However, REACH is expected to identify chemicals that are currently used in electronic components, so it will have an impact on the components industry. “The impact I see it that REACH is RoHS on steroids,” says Dries D’Hooghe, director of product strategy marketing at Agile Software Corp., a product lifecycle management company in San Jose, Calif. “With REACH you will now bear the responsibility for the chemicals in your product, including the impact of those chemicals, whether they are cancerous or otherwise toxic.”
REACH will come before the EU Parliament Environment Committee in October, then it moves on to the Parliament Plenary where it may receive final approval. Even if it doesn’t receive final approval in October, most industry watchers believe it will be approved in a manner of weeks or months after the October reading. “REACH has been through its first reading and it expected to pass late this year or early next year,” says Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates, a San Francisco consulting firm that helps electronic industry OEMs with environmental compliance.
REACH will have a much wider application than RoHS, which exclusively targeted toxic chemicals in electronic products. “The law calls out for banning major chemicals from use in Europe,” says Kirschner. “It’s a massive law and it could have massive impact, but it’s hard to know if it will have more impact than RoHS on the electronics industry.” There are plenty of questions left as to what chemicals will be banned, thus it’s difficult to judge its impact on electronics. “It depends on whether the electronics industry can get authorizations to use certain chemicals,” says Kirschner. “If they ban arsenic, we won’t have any ICs. The electronics industry has proven it can use arsenic [safely], but that application will have to be authorized.”
There has been a concerted lobbying effort to get the EU to soften or eliminate REACH altogether. In June, representatives from 13 nations, including some of the EU’s largest trading partners, issued a joint statement asking the EU to revisit the REACH draft. Signatories include Australia, Brazil, Chile, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and the United States. Chemical industry groups have also pushed the EU to quash REACH or limit its impact on the chemical industry.
The second part of this article will look at how REACH-style legislation is cropping up in other countries and in individual U.S. states.