Pollution Monitoring & Control – review of the year 2005

Europe's vision of far-reaching legislation governing the chemicals used by industry has dominated the pollution control agenda this year but progress has been made elsewhere in the political arena, if more quietly, and 2005 has had its share major spills and other industrial accidents.

2005 has been a huge year in terms of pollution legislation and while the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regulations may still be a long way from being written into the statute books of European states, cautious steps have been taken along the rocky road to their completion (see related story).

Environmentalists may express concern that the watered-down regulations have been diluted by desire to please industry to the extent of becoming worthless (see related story) but despite the repeated re-write REACH is still a powerful tool for the control of pollutants.

As the Eurocrats are fond of telling us, it is the biggest and most complicated single piece of legislation ever tackled by the European Union and should be something to be proud of.

But, as has happened elsewhere in the field of climate change and waste, the big idea which looked forward to a bright future at the start of 2005 had somehow fizzled out by the end of the year.

With REACH streamlined to appease the financial concerns of industry and delayed to allow more time for companies to prepare and politicians to complete their haggling, there is a very real danger the long-awaited overhaul of chemical control may be in need a few fillings even if it has not truly lost all its teeth (see related story).

Other progress from Brussels has seen the shoring up of legislation designed to protect children from potentially harmful gender-bending chemicals.

The back-and-forth battle over the legal status of phthalates has been won by those wanting a permanent ban, with a complete ban of some of the family of chemicals from toys and others banned from toys children are likely to put in their mouths (see related story).

MEPs have also moved forward with the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, which once again saw battle lines drawn between pro-business politicians who put the economy first and those who put the environment first (see related story).

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas argued their was no conflict, as the money spent reducing emissions and curbing pollution would be more than made up for by that saved on medical bills for those suffering from the effects of smog and particulates.

But despite the commissioner’s protestations, compromise was once again the order of the day and it was a streamlined strategy that is set to make the statute books (see related story).

It has also been a year of fluctuating fortunes for the famous hole in the ozone layer.

Early in the year it appeared the hole was healing, right on cue, as scientists had predicted it would (see related story).

But later it appeared the future was less rosy and all bets were off, with huge reservoirs of ozone-eating CFCs still unused – and waiting their inevitable turn to reach the upper atmosphere (see related story).

Although it has been a year of political progress – and disappointment – 2005 will probably be remembered more for its disasters than efforts to control future pollution.

While their long-term impact will be limited the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (see related story), the benzene spill that left a Chinese city without water as a huge slick travelled down the river to Russia (see related story) and, of course the dramatic blast at the Buncefield oil depot north of London (see related story) are likely to be the year’s legacy, not the potential within REACH.

By Sam Bond

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