Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson announced the new proposals as part of his drive to tighten chemicals control, a principal aim during the country’s six month presidency of the EU (see related story). The new proposals come hot on the heels of Sweden’s disappointment at the lack of policy on chemicals contained in the EC’s recent 10-year plan for the environment (see related story), and despite a recent EC pledge to phase out 32 toxic chemicals in the next 20 years (see related story). Announcing that chemicals policy illustrates “the need for greater legislation and new approaches”, Larsson made three pledges on chemicals: “powerful efforts must be made to increase awareness of the properties of chemicals on today’s market if their use is to be allowed to continue; industry must be given clearer responsibility for conducting risk analysis; and the use of certain substances should be phased out due to their inherent properties”.

Although EU approval will be required for many of its new proposals, Sweden says it will “strive for the introduction of EU regulations” to achieve them, but even so, Larsson said, companies should already use them as a “guide”.

Perhaps the most controversial of the measures proposed is a ban on cadmium and lead from 2010. When Denmark recently announced that it was to completely ban lead, the Scientific Committee on Toxicology, Ecotoxicology and Environment of the European Commission argued that it was scientifically unjustified (see related story). Larsson also proposed a ban on products containing mercury from 2003.

Further restrictions on chemicals are:

  • a requirement on new products on sale to the general public to be “as free as possible” from substances which are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction by 2007;
  • bans on new organic bioaccumulative and persistent substances by 2005;
  • bans on other organic substances which are “very persistent and very bioaccumulative” by 2010;
  • and a ban on other organic persistent and bioaccumulative substances by 2015.

Sweden also wants to place the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of chemical manufacturers and distributors. By 2010, no new chemical products will be allowed on the market without the provision of information on their “intrinsic health and environment properties”. High-volume chemicals and those shown to be “particularly hazardous”, in trials would be subject to controls earlier, and also by 2010, products will have to have their hazardous content shown on labels.

The plan is predicted to propose far stricter controls than those in the soon-to-be-published EC white paper on chemicals and possible confrontation with other EU nations, which do not favour such far-reaching regulation.

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