EU chemicals laws reviewed

The European Commission has adopted the findings of a report challenging the effectiveness of the main EU legal instruments governing industrial chemicals.

Prepared at the request of the Commission, which now views revision of the system as “urgent” following increased public concern regarding the marketing of the 100,000 chemicals in circulation in the Internal Market, the report advocates greater employment of the precautionary principle, more rapid evaluation of chemical risks and a greater emphasis on enforcement by Member States.

European chemical control legislation stems from a single 1967 directive. Today, there are more than a dozen EU Directives on chemicals control, centred around four principle instruments covering the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances and preparations (Directive 67/548/EEC), the evaluation and control of the risks of existing substances (88/379/EEC), and the restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations (76/769/EEC).

For substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction under Directive 67/548, the report highlights the fact that there is no adequate follow-up, “even though the effects of such substances are of major concern”.

The report also recommends that legislation be streamlined and updated to reflect new or emerging problems such as endocrine disrupters.

On the issue of chemicals evaluation, the report questions the logic behind the “burden of proof” being borne by public authorities rather than industry, and stresses the need to “meet more fully the concerns of the outside world by giving full consideration to the precautionary principle”.

Ritt Bjerregaard, Commissioner for Environment, stated: “It is important to note that over the last three decades the EU has equipped itself with a number of legislative instruments which deal with the identification of the hazards and the assessment of risks related to the use of industrial chemicals. The adoption by the Commission of the Report is a decisive step in ensuring that they are as effective and efficient as they need to be.”

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