A study carried out by scientists from the University of Sheffield claims that if REACH were implemented in its 2003 incarnation it could help avoid 50,000 cases of work-related respiratory diseases and 40,000 cases of occupational skin diseases from exposure to dangerous chemicals every year.

The study was commissioned by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and was unveiled in Brussels on Monday, October 17.

According to the union the €3.5 billion saving from the reduction in the number of respiratory and skin ailments would be the tip of the iceberg of benefits from a strong REACH.

There would be further saving from other health benefits, as well as environmental benefits not covered by the study, say the unions.

The expected cost of implementing REACH €2.8 billion to €5.2 billion over the first 15 years.

Italian MEP Guido Sacconi, who as rapporteur for REACH is guiding the controversial legislation through the European Parliament, welcomed the findings of the study as it bolsters the body of evidence suggesting a need for wide-reaching regulation.

“This important study gives a salutary reminder that while REACH may have a cost, benefits are also to be expected in terms of human health, especially that of workers, and that is one of the key aims of the reform”, he said.

Judith Hackitt, the director general of the trade organization the Chemical Industry Association, said there was a danger of spiraling costs and the study’s predictions were dependent on Brussels keeping bureaucracy to a minimum.

“We hope they are right, but that will only happen if REACH works properly and delivers results,” she told edie.

“If it’s too bureaucratic it will end up costing a lot and delivering none of these crucially important benefits – improved occupational health in downstream chemical using industries.

“This last point is particularly important – we have all agreed throughout this process that it is in downstream industries where the occupational health benefits are to be had – not in the chemical industry itself where we already adopt a very strict set of standards to protect people from the hazards of the substances we make.”

Pressure group the European Environmental Bureau has welcomed the Sheffield study, with the group’s chemical policy officer Mecki Naschke saying: “Chemical producers need to make sufficient safety information available and show the evaluation of this data in a transparent way by issuing a Chemical Safety Report.

“This study shows the importance of safety data for low volume substances. For the person exposed to a chemical in the workplace it does not matter whether the supplier produces the substance at volumes below 10 tonnes or above 1,000 tonnes.

“What counts are the properties of the substance”.

By Sam Bond

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