Chemical Risk to Europeans Up to Parliamentary Vote

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 12, 2001 (ENS) - Today, non-governmental organizations representing millions of EU citizens called upon the European Parliament to support Europe’s move towards a better chemicals policy on Wednesday’s plenary vote on the Chemicals White Paper.

Key aspects of the Environment Committee’s report could be dropped as a result of chemical industry pressure, warns the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a federation of 134 member organizations in 25 countries.

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Test for leaching of toxic materials from a product. (Photo courtesy UK Water Quality Centre)
The current regulatory framework for chemicals is "fundamentally flawed," the EEB says. "Very little is known about the safety and environmental hazards of most of the 30,000 chemicals in use today, and we continue to be exposed to chemicals which build up in our bodies and may disrupt our hormonal systems."

A voluntary program it calls "Responsible Care" is the European chemical industry’s commitment to reducing chemical risks. The European Chemical Industry Council defines responsible care as "continuous improvement in all aspects of health, safety and environment performance" and a commitment to "openness in communication about its activities and achievements, plans and targets."

Charging the chemical industry with "lobbying for its own short term self interest," the EEB is urging the European Parliament to show its political will for reform of the existing "outdated" European controls on chemicals.

A report from the Environment Committee resulting from a political compromise is the route the EEB favors as "a way to reduce pollution as well as a balanced route towards sustainable development."

By adopting the compromises of the Environment Committee, the European Parliament now has a chance to change things for the better, to stop producing or using hazardous chemicals and to stimulate innovation in the EU chemicals industry towards providing safe and sustainable products.

It is vital for the protection of human health and the environment that the European Parliament vote for a resolution as progressive and precautionary as the policy agreed by the European governments on June 7, the EEB urged.

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A prototype electronic nose. During operation, a chemical vapor or odor is blown over the sensor array, the sensor signals are digitized and fed into the computer, and an artificial neural network implemented in software within the computer, then identifies the chemical. (Photo courtesy PNNL)
"It must endorse this report unchanged - not allowing industry or backdoor national tactics to reopen the agreed compromises," the EEB said in a statement today. "The credibility of the European Parliament’s role for a strong chemicals policy development is at stake."

Swedish Green Member of the European Parliament Inger Schörling is in the forefront of the move for the reform of chemicals testing and control. A key foundation of the new policy would introduce a general ban on chemicals of "very high concern," with authorizations granted case-by-case only if industry can justify them.

The legislation should cover not only carcinogenic and persistent organic substances, Schörling says, but also weaker carcinogens, endocrine disrupters and sensitizers.

The European Chemical Industry Council objects that this proposal would create a "more costly, more bureaucratic and less effective system" of chemicals regulation. In its rebuttal of the policy, the council says it would have "serious damaging implications on the whole of European industry and society as a whole."

Meanwhile, the number of priority chemicals that have been assessed for risk under the EU's existing substances research programme is inching up steadily, the European Chemicals Bureau (ECB) reports in its most recent newsletter.

Since March, evaluations have been completed on a further nine substances, the ECB says, bringing the total to 54 out of the 110 chemicals earmarked for early screening in the EU's four priority lists.

For all but one of the nine, the evaluations recommend further control measures signalling likely future EU legislative action to control them.

Among the substances for which the ECB says at least some new restrictions are needed are pentane, MDI, butynediol and zinc.

Before the legislative process can begin, the evaluations must be peer reviewed by the EU's scientific Committee on Toxicology, Ecotoxicology and the Environment. The committee has now completed nearly 40 reviews after earlier slow progress.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}