US vs. EU: Chemicals Substitution Faceoff

By November 3, 2016 No Comments

Summary of article by Molly Jacobs and Joel Tickner,, October 27, 2016

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) commissioned the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts to conduct an assessment of current capacity and needs to enhance support for the informed substitution of substances of very high concern (SVHC) in the context of the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation.  The report, Improving the Identification, Evaluation, Adoption and Development of Safer Alternatives, shows a disconnect between legislation driving industry to make substitutions and the capacity among EU members to support these practices.

Although the EU has more legislative mandates that restrict the use or require substitution of hazardous chemicals than the U.S., U.S. companies are substituting some hazardous chemicals in product lines and manufacturing processes.  This is being driven in large part by market demands and chemicals legislation and regulation in a few states, including the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute, Washington Department of Ecology and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program.  Federal agencies have created voluntary programs to incentivize substitution, including the EPA’s Safer Choice Program.

Both the EU and the U.S. are confronted by a lack of agency infrastructure and resources to support substitution efforts.  8 of the 16 EU Member State Authorities surveyed have only one full-time equivalent staff dedicated to substitution.  In the U.S., other than the EPA, federal agencies may have one or two, if any, such staff members.  The implementation of both the amended Toxic Substances Control Act and California’s Safer Consumer Products regulation may increase the regulatory drivers for substitution in the U.S.  Yet as seen in the EU, such regulatory drivers need to be coupled with resources for agencies to support the broader range of needs and challenges.

Existing infrastructure and resource needs will limit forward momentum on these fronts.  To move towards an economy based on using safer chemicals, government agencies will need to play an important non-regulatory role in supporting investment, facilitation of supply chain collaborations around safer substitutes, and technical capacity building.

To read the complete article, including a discussion on building capacity to support industry substitution efforts, go here.



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