American firms in Europe back risk-based environmental legislation

The organisation representing American companies operating in the EU has published its suggestions for the EU's Sixth Environmental Programme. It strongly recommends making more use of risk assessment.

Promoting Coherency spells out what the EU Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce (ACC) would like to see given priority during the EU’s Sixth Environmental Programme – currently under development. The document argues that risk assessment, as it is set out in EU chemicals legislation, should be considered when changes are made to water, air and waste policy.

But risk assessment has been roundly criticised as a slow, unwieldy process that has delayed progress in the evaluation of chemicals currently in use (see related story). The EC is planning radical changes to chemicals legislation to try to improve efficiency (see related story).

“We agree that the chemicals legislation is not working well and not quickly enough, but it’s more an implementation problem than anything else,” Stuart Rutherford, a member of the Environment Sub-Committee of the EU Committee of the ACC, told edie. Rutherford would like to see environmental policymakers pick and choose what they like from risk assessment, not incorporate it in its entirety. “We’re in no way suggesting that the whole risk assessment system should somehow be transposed to waste and other policy areas,” he says.

Rutherford believes that elements of risk assessment can work with Best Available Technique (BAT) approaches for industrial emissions to water or air. Rutherford thinks that BAT and quality standards derived from risk assessment should be used in combination and that a dual approach would represent an improvement in environmental legislation. The EU Committee of the ACC points to the use of the dual approach in the Water Framework Directive as an example of its usefulness.

Greenpeace’s EU toxics advisor does not agree that the EU Committee of the ACC is seeking to make EU environmental policy more effective. “They’re pushing this precisely because risk assessment has been an ineffective policy,” Axel Singhofen told edie. “They would love this to be extended to all areas of environmental legislation because it would cause delay.”

Singhofen uses the on-going battle surrounding phthalates in children’s toys as an example of how ineffective and time consuming risk assessment can be. “We knew from the beginning that phthalates are migrating and being ingested by children,” he says, and points out that risk assessment research on phthalates did not help the EU make its decision about the potential harm to children (see related story).

Perhaps the EU Committee of the ACC is out of touch, suggests Singhofen. “They have not realised that there is a clear counter movement within the EU against risk assessment. We can only hope that Ministers and the EC will have learnt from the very painful and tedious experience of the chemicals policy,” he says.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie