Chemical plans condemned on fifth anniversary of proposals

The EU's proposals on the safe use of chemicals in industry has been roundly condemned by a major environmental NGO five years after suggestions the regulations should be looked at were first put on the table.

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) could be said to have been conceived on February 13, 2001 when the EC launched its white paper on the strategy for a future chemicals policy.

The white paper set out a strategy that was meant to “balance the essential need to protect human health and promote a non-toxic environment with the requirement to maintain and enhance innovation and the competitiveness of the EU chemical industry.”

Five years down the line Brussels has yet to give birth to the finished legislation, a while there is no official due date, observers are led to believe its arrival is imminent.

The process has not been a straightforward one and has led to REACH earning the accolade of being the most complicated piece of legislation ever produced by Europe.

Its progress through the corridors of power has been hindered by two powerful lobbies, perhaps most easily seen as the social and environmental conscience of the environmentalists against the huge financial clout and powerful economic arguments of the chemicals industry.

While, bar a few bureaucratic creases they would like to see ironed out, industry is now fairly happy with the proposals (see related story) the NGOs are less impressed.

Friends of the Earth Europe has claimed REACH has been poisoned by the competitiveness agenda and will not achieve what it set out to do.

Brussels, 13th February 2006 – On the fifth anniversary of the launch of the “White Paper on the Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy”, it is clear that the development of EU’s draft legislation on Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) has been gravely hindered.

Aleksandra Kordecka, chemicals campaigner for FoE, said: “It was a once-and-for-all strategy designed to address the problems of chemical contamination and ensure that public health and the environment are at the forefront of EU policy-making.

“But the chemical industry and Commissioner Verheugen have been extremely effective in destroying the legislation.

“What five years ago started as a ‘step-by-step approach to phase out and substitute the most dangerous substances’ today means that most chemicals that cause cancer, accumulate in our bodies and in our environment and affect our ability to reproduce are likely to remain on the market and further harm public health and the environment.

“What five years ago was supposed to “improve access to information on chemicals and increase the transparency of the decision making process” today means that the industry is still allowed to keep the consumer in the dark about the chemicals in the products they buy.

“Finally, what used to be seen as the most fundamental element of REACH – the provision of safety data for some 30,000 chemicals on the market – is today no more than an empty shell as very little data will have to be provided for chemicals produced in low volumes. This will prevent the development of risk management strategies.

Kordecka added: “February 13 is a very sad day. Instead of celebrating the fifth anniversary of the launch of the most progressive system of chemicals management in the world, we continue to face the muscle of the chemicals industry prevailing over public health and environmental protection”.

“As a result, the current REACH draft is weak – as if suffering from cancer, a disease often linked to the presence of dangerous chemicals in the environment.”

Marc Devisscher, a spokesman for the European chemicals industry association, CEFIC, was resigned to the fact the NGOs would be critical of any compromise.

“This is nothing new, they’ve been saying this from the beginning,” he told edie.

“The chemical industry is not against REACH, we welcomed the white paper because at the time what we had was a situation of chaotic chemical legislation.

“We had some issues with the original text because our concern was to make it workable.”

He said this had been interpreted by some NGOs as an attempt to undermine REACH.

“Their position is their position and ours is ours – we think REACH is going in the right direction.”

At the end of the day, he said, if the chemicals industry could not implement REACH then none of the hoped-for benefits would materialise.

“It’s in everybody’s interests to have a workable system,” he said.

“The old system failed because it was too bureaucratic and we are hopeful the new one will not be.”

By Sam Bond

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