REACH: Obsolete from birth

At its coming into force, the European REACH regulation on chemical substances implies toxicity tests of which the reliability has never been proved, qualified of “simply bad science” by a scientific responsible of the European Commission and longer and more expensive than modern and reliable tests already available. 

The European REACH regulations on chemical substances came into force last Friday. The fact that the authorities are at last concerning themselves with safeguarding human health and the environment is an excellent thing. But does REACH really give itself the means to fulfil this objective?

Industrialists are denouncing a system that is too costly and the lack of competent toxicologists. The danger to human health of toxicity tests whose reliability has not been proved, carried out on animals and liable therefore to allay the mistrust of users and allow the sale of products that are in reality very toxic for human beings, should also be denounced.

Yet an effective, modern and far less costly REACH is possible. Toxicogenomics, a method introduced by the European Parliament and quoted in the preamble to the regulations, would, if implemented, allow the principal objections to REACH to be overcome. Toxicogenomics:

  • produces reliable predictions of the toxicity of substances for humans and can be a rapid screen for identifying the most dangerous substances;
  • produces results rapidly: in two years, it would be possible for a properly equipped laboratory to test the 100,000 chemical substances identified by the European Commission, of which it is foreseen that REACH will test only 30,000;
  • is economical, which should allow the European Union to acquire a laboratory capable of carrying out the tests, thus sparing the small and medium-sized firms that fear for their very survival because of the financial cost of REACH
  • would calm the anger of animal defence organisations (which have inundated members of the European Parliament with petitions during the REACH proceedings), since this method is not based on the use of animals, contrary to a number of tests currently required.

Why are the authorities delaying the implementation of truly scientific methods when a responsible scientist on the European Commission has declared that toxicological testing on animals was quite “simply bad science”? If toxicologists are to be trained, will it be to apply the modern methods already used in the United States and Japan, or those of the nineteenth century? The latter, currently used for pre-clinical testing of medicines, did not stop six people narrowly escaping death in March 2006, nor has it prevented thousands of human beings dying in France each year due to the secondary effects of medicines despite the fact that these had all been tested on animals. Toxicogenomic tests carried out by a public body, and unfalsifiable, would also put an end to a situation in which the manufacturer is judge in his own case, since at the present time it is he who supplies the results of tests on his own substances!