European parliament approves Reach 

The European parliament has secured backing for the long-awaited regulatory regime for Europe’s chemicals industry: registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (Reach). 

Reach was today approved in Strasbourg after a marathon vote on 1038 amendments. It was first published by the European Commission in 2003, after five years of preliminary discussions. 

One key issue yet to be resolved is whether authorisations for marketing and use of substances potentially harmful to health or the environment should be time-limited, making them subject to review by the Helsinki, Finland-based European Chemicals Agency which will be established under Reach. 

Governments must now determine their own common position, although political group leaders - and EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas - predict that emerging consensus between MEPs and ministers will lead to the UK clinching an outline political agreement in December. 

A second reading of the proposal is due in 2006, and Reach should enter into force in late 2006 or early 2007, launching a phased, 11-year programme of mandatory registration of around 30 000 substances. The proposal was to be cleared in November, but Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel asked to postpone the vote so her incoming coalition government could scan the draft. Berlin’s role is crucial: there are powerful German chemical interests, and Germany has the largest national delegation in the European parliament. German MEPs dominate the industry-friendly European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in Strasbourg.

Developments are being watched in the US, says MEP Guido Sacconi, who steered the legislation through its parliamentary stages. ’Washington fears demands from environmental and public health activists for the creation of a similar regime.’ 
Arthur Rogers  

EU lab animals due a reprieve 

A declaration of support for approaches to refine, reduce, and replace the use of laboratory animals in testing (the three Rs) has been agreed by industry sectors representing the European chemical and biotechnology industries and the European Commission. ’Although industry has been at the forefront of implementing the three Rs’, said Alain Perroy at Cefic, the European chemical industry association, ’we have never before had the opportunity to work together in such an integrated manner’. The partnership is designed to help cross-fertilisation of ideas across industry, and dialogue with key stakeholders. 

Flame retardant off the EU hook

The EU has exempted decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca-BDE) from its directive on the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS; Chemistry World, October 2005, p44). The decision, effective immediately, was welcomed by the European brominated flame retardant industry panel (EBFRIP). ’It is reassuring news for electronics manufacturers worldwide who use Deca-BDE as their flame retardant of choice,’ said EBFRIP chair Dieter Drohmann.  

Industry fights for GM approval 

EuropaBio, the European association for bioindustries, has voiced dismay at the failure of the EU agriculture council to approve foods and food ingredients based on two biotech maize products - GA 21 and MON 863 - despite what they say are positive safety assessments from the European Food Safety Authority.

Swiss biotech success 

Sales exceeding expectations prompted Swiss biotech company Actelion to announce third quarter results a week early, and raise its targets for the year. 

Actelion’s total net revenues were up 40 per cent for the first nine months of 2005 - SF477.1 million (£210 million), compared with SF341.5 million in 2004. Actelion has two products, Tracleer for pulmonary arterial hypertension, and Zavesca for the rare enzyme-deficiency Gaucher disease. Tracleer sales in the first nine months of 2005 totalled SF455.1 million compared to SF325.4 million in the first nine months of 2004.  

Actelion’s chief financial officer Andrew Oakley said the results were ’outstanding’. Chief executive officer Jean-Paul Clozel said he was delighted. ’Actelion has been successful in growing the pulmonary arterial hypertension market more rapidly than we expected, with physicians becoming even more aware of the benefits of diagnosis and treatment with our dual endothelin receptor antagonist Tracleer,’ said Clozel.

Actelion has a number of undisclosed drugs in the pipeline. Clozel hopes that one of them will be the one that makes Actelion a much bigger company. ’We just need one blockbuster,’ he said.  

Elementis Chromium cuts 

Upcoming job cuts at chromium producer Elementis Chromium, Stockton-on-Tees, UK, are being forced through by investment firm Hanover, according to local leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) and Amicus trade union. Hanover owns 15 per cent of Elementis Chromium.

Over half the current 320-strong workforce at the company’s Eaglescliffe plant is to be axed from February 2006, report the unions. ’Hanover is looking to impress the City but that’s being paid for by our members jobs,’ said Joe Keith, T&G senior regional industrial organiser. 

DuPont after the hurricanes 

US chemical group DuPont has reported third quarter earnings. The third quarter included significant items totalling $0.42 (24p) per share for charges for hurricane damage and taxes associated with repatriation under the American jobs creation act. Third quarter earnings were a loss of $0.09 per share. Excluding significant items, third quarter earnings per share grew 32 per cent against last year. 

The company has unveiled a $5bn share buy-back programme and other measures to boost shareholder value in light of rising cost of energy and raw materials, particularly in light of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

BASF cuts at Minden site 

German chemical giant BASF is to reduce production at its site in Minden, Germany. The company plans to cut 95 jobs through voluntary redundancies following reduced demand for its products pseudoephedrine and caffeine. 

Declining sales of pseudo-ephedrine follow a US decision to outlaw over-the-counter pharmaceuticals containing the compound. Declining sales in caffeine are the result of pricing pressure from manufacturers in Asia. 

BP chief to back British science 

Lord Browne of Madingley, group chief executive of BP, will take over as president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) in September 2006. He will take over from the current president, Frances Cairncross, at the end of the BA Festival of Science in Norwich, UK. 

EU hazardous waste reduction  

Small businesses in the speciality organic chemicals sector are invited to take part in a new EU-funded project, established to help companies reduce the amount of hazardous waste they produce and cut costs. 

The speciality organic chemical industry, which generates significant quantities of hazardous waste, is one of six priority sectors selected for the three-year Hazred project. Hazred is looking to work with 20 small businesses in the sector to monitor and evaluate reduction in hazardous waste produced and cost savings achieved. 

Businesses and stakeholders in the speciality organic chemicals sector who are interested in taking part in the project are invited to attend a workshop, which will take place on 25 January 2006. 

Recipe for energy use

A survey of European plastics processors has found that 60 per cent have concerns for the future of the European plastics processing industry unless significant short-term action is taken on energy issues and costs. 

The average site-specific energy consumption rate among companies that responded to the survey was 2.87 kW/kg/hr and the average cost of energy across Europe was calculated from the survey to be €0.08/kWh (£0.05/kWh).  

The survey was undertaken by the newly formed organisation Reduced Energy Consumption in Plastics Engineering (RECIPE). Full details of the findings are available on registration at the Recipe website.