EC chemicals legislation “not good enough”, says Bjerregaard

The development over the last 30 years of Europe’s “impressive arsenal” of legal instruments covering industrial chemicals, has not been reflected in growing public confidence in chemicals, says EU Environment Commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard. “We're getting the message that the current Community legislation just isn't doing the job”.

Speaking at a brainstorming meeting as part of the Chemical Review – a review of the four main instruments governing industrial chemicals in the EU, intended to develop a strategy for future chemicals policy – The Commissioner highlighted some of the shortcomings of current policies on chemicals.

A major concern relates to the number of chemicals, which constitute the “burden of the past” and for which there is little data available. There is no agreed view on the scale of this problem – some contend it relates to over 100,000 chemicals, while EU industry estimates as low as 1200.

According to the US Environmental Defense Fund, the “minimal” toxicity data required by the OECD is not publicly available for about 75% of the 3,000 chemicals in large-scale use. Similarly, little is known about eco-toxicity and bio-accumulation.

Risk assessment currently provides the basis for the management of hazardous chemicals. There are no risk reduction measures without a risk assessment. Yet, of the 110 priority chemicals selected by the EU for risk assessment since 1993, the technical work has only been completed on 19 to date. The process, from selecting a priority chemical to an agreed risk assessment report, can take as long as four years. Bjerregaard questioned whether this basis is still valid, and whether the process could be speeded up.

Often the effects related to the use of chemicals only emerge with time. According to Bjerregaard, the phenomenon of endocrine disruption and the migration of phthalates in soft PVC toys, demonstrate that the current legislation does not allow for sufficiently rapid response.

The Commissioner stressed the need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of EU legal instruments, and, in doing so, to balance the interests of the protection of the environment and human health, as well as consumer protection, with the need for Industry to remain competitive.
The Chemicals Review is the first simultaneous review the four main legal instruments governing industrial chemicals in the Community.

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