REACH for sound science, says chemicals industry group

Politicians should base their decisions on science, not political expediency or pressure from special interests groups, says the chief executive of a group representing the chlorine industry. “In seeking to protect the environment and the consumer, EU regulators all too often place excessive burdens on manufacturing industry. Politicians have a duty to stand up for sound science and legislate accordingly,” says Dr Barrie Gilliatt in a review published by Euro Chlor on behalf of 93 companies.

Euro Chlor is concerned that recent European legislation is making it “difficult and costly for chemical producers to maintain existing products or to bring new substances to market. If innovation is stifled, the consumer will ultimately suffer in terms of less choice and less effective or more costly products.”

A key feature of the EU Chemicals Policy Review is the REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) process that controls the use of chemicals of concern, says Euro Chlor. The cost of registration – estimated at €100,000-250,000 for each submission to the Europeam Commission – will mean the loss of products from the market. Euro Chlor members will be able to share the costs, but smaller producers may find themselves priced out of the market.

Caustic soda is an example – this biocide was widely used during the UK foot and mouth epidemic. Because biocidal applications represent less than 0.1% of total caustic soda sales, Euro Chlor and its members have decided that the small market size does not justify the expense of registration. Unless a third party elects to register caustic soda as a biocide, it will no longer be possible for it to be marketed for this particular application.

Although Dr Gilliatt urges a policy review, he recognises that “society is influenced by a complex range of factors and will often make illogical decisions based more on emotion than on science.” Gilliatt warns the chemicals industry to respect and respond to society’s opinions. “The world moves on and we must move with it.”

In the drive for sustainable development, challenges for the chlorine industry include reducing energy consumption – a process that will require more spending and longer payback periods – and reducing water use and emissions. Mercury emissions are down 72% since 1990 as mercury cell plants are being converted to membrane technology. Under the 1990 PARCOM recommendation all mercury cell plants are to be phased out in the North Sea by 2010.

“Sustainability is best served when all parties are willing to recognise realities – scientific, social, political, economic and environmental,” concludes Gilliatt. “We call for a balanced and fair debate that takes account of all these factors and recognises that equal weight must be given to each one if the longer-term needs of society are to be met.”

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