The US, Canada and Mexico have agreed to coordinate their efforts to regulate chemicals

As part of the latest North American Leaders’ Summit, the US, Canada and Mexico have agreed to develop a regional partnership to assess and manage the potential risks from industrial chemicals. But unlike the EU’s Reach legislation, the deal will not lead to a single, unified chemicals regulation for all the countries.

Mexican President Calderon, US President Bush, and Canadian Prime Minister Harper, who hosted the meeting in Montebello, Quebec, agreed on 21 August to improve chemicals information sharing, with a view to improving the compatibility of each country’s respective regulation.

The three countries will retain their own chemicals regulation and registration procedures. But the agreement will see each committing to further tighten its own regulations on the inventory of chemicals they manufacture or import.

The US currently registers all of the 2200 high production volume chemicals manufactured or imported into the country in quantities greater than 1 million pounds (450 tonnes) per year. The country has now pledged to extend this to the 9000 chemicals produced above 25 000 pounds (11 tonnes) per year. This gradual implementation contrasts to the EU approach, in which all chemicals produced or imported in quantities of more than one tonne must be registered by 2011.

The 2012 deadline also applies to Canada and Mexico. Canada will complete an assessment of high priority substances, and begin to assess medium priority substances, in line with an existing Chemical Management Plan it began rolling out in December 2006. By the 2012 date, Mexico has committed to develop an information system for dangerous materials. The agreement also establishes further goals to be reached by 2020.

’Mexico currently has no chemicals inventory,’ Charles Auer, Director of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, told Chemistry World. ’The US and Canada will provide technical assistance to help Mexico realise an inventory.’ The agreement should also reduce duplication in chemicals testing between the three countries, said Auer. ’For example, the initial assessment of medium production volume chemicals in the US will apply the results Canadian hazard categorization work,’ he said.

The deal will not break new ground in the regulation of existing chemicals in the way that Reach strives to do in Europe. But it promises to be less burdensome for industry, David Taylor, director of environment and sustainability at AstraZeneca, told Chemistry World.

The North American schemes, like most others in the world, require manufacturers to supply a safety data sheet on their products to the user, Taylor said. But Reach takes this a step further - along with safety data, the manufacturer must supply risk management information for the end user. A good idea on paper but almost impossible in practice given the myriad potential final uses of many compounds.

In addition, Reach requires a single registration for each chemical - so all companies involved in manufacture or import of a particular compound must identify each other, get together and produce the necessary data. And this sharing of potentially commercially sensitive data amongst competitors means lawyers must be brought into the discussions, Taylor added. North American manufacturers will have a simpler time in that each company simply registers their own products.

James Mitchell Crow

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Also of interest

Also of interest

EU chemicals legislation settled

Final hurdles overcome in Reach negotiations

Ready for Reach?

Reach will start to be implemented in June and companies are being urged to prepare for it. This is easier said than done, with many areas of the legislation still decidedly fuzzy