Stricter regulations of chemicals used by the auto industry appear to be on the horizon for the U.S.

Legislation is expected to be introduced by late November by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and others in Congress for an update to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a federal statute intended to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate toxic chemicals in the U.S.

Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, says in a recent speech there is a need to review all chemicals according to risk, based on information and safety data provided by industry and to empower the EPA to outlaw any substances that don’t meet regulations.

In short, it appears the U.S. may roughly copy the European Union’s REACH (registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals) registration system, which took effect last year.

“Nobody wants to appear to be copying someone else’s law, and my guess is there won’t be too many words (in the U.S. act) that are identical to REACH, but we’ll find principles and ideas that are very similar,” says Daryl Ditz, senior policy advisor for the chemicals program at the Center for International Environmental Law.

The nonprofit, public interest group provides environmental legal services in international and comparative environmental law.

ACEA, the European vehicle manufacturers association, says REACH has significant implications for the European automotive industry.

“Registration is required for some 30,000 substances, and all chemicals used in cars must comply with the regulations,” the group says. “If the data is not provided, the vehicle cannot be sold, registered or imported to the EU.”

But pending TSCA reform may not be as big a shock as feared by U.S. auto makers.

The list of chemical substances included in the regulations is unlikely to surprise the industry thanks to work in recent years by the Global Automotive Stakeholder Group, an international auto/chemical industry organization established to exchange information “regarding the use of certain substances in automotive products.”

Says Phil Hope, manager of the value-chain team at the European chemical industry council CEFIC: “A lot of the unease in the auto industry over REACH disappeared last year when people realized that many of the substances were already on the GASG lists and had been addressed.”

Similarly, there was concern in the U.S. regarding how REACH would affect vehicle and components exports to the EU.

The impending legislation then was seen to be “fairly significant in terms of potential disruption to the supply chain,” says David Lalain, director-business development for the Automotive Industry Action Group, a not-for-profit association of companies involved in the automotive industry based in Southfield, MI.

“There was a lot of churn,” he says. “We put on classes and e-learning about REACH, put together an expert committee, hired lawyers, etc. This year, it’s rather stalled. After a huge fanfare, there’s now a lull.”

Indeed, registration of chemicals, which involves a risk assessment of their use, appears to be going according to plan without major upset. There appears to be little panic at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington lobbying group representing 11 auto makers in the U.S.

“Companies may have different opinions, but in principle we’re all supportive of new ways of educating consumers and others about the environmental impact of our product,” AAM spokesman Wade Newton says.

How bad has REACH actually been for the European auto industry?

While the policy still is far from being fully implemented, the deadlines for registration of chemicals run until 2018 depending on toxicity and volume, there are indications the impact is not as harsh as feared, and any higher costs are being absorbed without needing to raise selling prices.

“Quite a few car companies were well ahead of REACH,” Peter Wells, co-director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University, tells Ward’s.

“They already had concerns about chemicals in their manufacturing processes and had compiled their own databases and come up with lists of chemicals that could not be used in the manufacturing process or in the product itself,” he says.

“The leading companies have been up to speed on this for quite some time.”