The European Parliament has rejected the calls of EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström and European governments to significantly expand a ban proposed in the European White Paper on chemicals (see related story)

on substances that are proven to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction (CMR), limiting it to CMR categories 1 and 2 substances and to persistent organic pollutants (POPs). This means that a proposed ban on bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs), very persistent and very bioaccumulative substances and endocrine disrupters was also rejected. In a further defeat for Swedish Green rapporteur, Inger Schörling, Parliament also rejected a call to include substances produced in volumes of less than one tonne a year in a possible ban or to extend substance registration requirements for them.

What was preserved in the proposed legislation and adopted by 242 votes to 169 was that hazardous chemicals should be phased out by 2020 and replaced with safer alternatives (see related story). It also voted for the Commission’s plan to establish a single system for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of both existing and new chemicals, to replace the existing cumbersome and ineffective legislation, but wants to go further. The House backed Schörling’s demand that substance must be phased out as soon as they are shown to be of “very high concern” unless their use and their hazardous properties are essential to society and there is no safer alternative, in which case they should be authorised on a temporary basis and banned after 2020.

Parliament also wants chemicals present in manufactured goods included in the new regime and says they must be banned as soon as safer alternatives are available, and by 2012 at the latest. It also wants consumer products to carry labels informing consumers of substances of very high concern contained in them and it wants the new rules on chemicals to apply to imports into the EU.

MEPs also backed additional calls for the effects of chemicals on children’s health and on the unborn child to be taken as a reference for human health assessments and are demanding that animal testing be reduced to the minimum and banned where recognised alternative tests are available. They also want strict liability under Community legislation (see preceding story) for damages to human health and the environment to cover all chemicals and their uses.

At the same time, Parliament, said it is keen to ensure that the needs of industry, especially small business, are taken on board under the new chemicals strategy, which must avoid excessive red tape and protect commercial confidentiality. The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the forum and the voice of the European chemical industry, representing about 40,000 companies, broadly welcomed the proposals, which it called “a new step in the process of developing the future chemical legislation”. “The chemical industry appreciates that the European Parliament has taken major amendments on board in order to keep the future system workable,” said Alain Perroy, Cefic Director General.

However, green groups, headed by Europe’s biggest federation of environmental NGOs, the EEB, were scathing in their criticism of the parliamentary resolution. “With this vote European politics has lost credibility with the general public, who expect their representatives to safeguard them from attacks on their own and their children’s health,” said John Hontelez, EEB’s Secretary General. “This vote comes to us as a shock,” said Jorgo Iwasaki-Riss, Greenpeace Chemicals Advisor said. “MEPs have chosen to ignore the scientific consensus and the agreement of the EU Council of Ministers on the need to take effective action to reduce our exposure, even to the most hazardous chemicals.”

The proposals will now pass to the Council of the European Union for reconsideration.

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