Heralded as the dawn of a new age for European Chemical evaluation and regulation, REACH revitalised the laws governing the chemical industry and offered a single piece of legislation.

Complex and perhaps even radical, the REACH concept became as contentious as it was revolutionary and is thought to have been frowned upon by many in the industrial chemical and gases sectors.

The new EU regulation came into effect as law on 1st June this year, after the final draft document was given approval on 13th December 2006 and received the official go-ahead from the EU's Council of Ministers 5 days later.

So how will the implementation of REACH affect the industrial gases industry?
Aimed at improving the protection of human health and the environment while maintaining competitiveness and enhancing innovation, it is also hoped that the new regulation will give the industry greater responsibility to manage the risks from products, chemicals and gases. Not all gases apply, however. Most of the air gases and naturally occurring gases are not required to be registered and authorised, meaning that REACH will potentially have no impact on around 75 percent of the industrial gases business.

Standing for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals, REACH will require enterprises which manufacture or import more than one tonne of a chemical substance per year, to register the substance in a central database administered by the new EU Chemicals Agency. As simple and effective as this concept may seem, in reality this process is actually quite complex and may lead to far more significant ramifications in the gases industry than first conceived.

The Existing Chemicals directive, a previous means of regulation of the European Chemicals Bureau, was responsible for scientific and technical support regarding data collection, priority setting and risk assessment under Council Regulation (EEC) 793/93 on the Control and Evaluation of the Risks of Existing Substances. The directive aimed its activities to be aligned with the strategy for implementing an environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals, responsible for scientific and technical inputs to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) existing chemicals programme and several UN initiatives. It is such previous legislation or directives, that REACH will be building on and taking to new levels.

Doug Thornton, director of the British Compressed Gas Association (BCGA), comments, $quot;Over and above, REACH is supposed to be the better answer. REACH is even more complex because as well as registering the properties and behaviour of the basic species, the chemical, REACH overlays on what was the Existing Chemicals attempts that failed.$quot;