UK steals the march on EU with new chemicals policy

UK environment minister Michael Meacher has announced a new strategy for speeding up the review and regulation of chemicals already on the market. The new approach will steer clear of time-consuming risk assessments.

Meacher acknowledged that our understanding of chemicals already in use is inadequate and stated that the aim of the UK chemicals strategy will be to garner more information on chemicals’ impacts on human health and the environment, with the possibility of phasing out some chemicals.

With the EU’s environment commissioner Margot Wallström recently discussing her plans for a new European chemicals policy (see related story), announcement of the UK strategy has been carefully timed. “The EU is not launching their chemicals strategy until next June,” a Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR)spokesperson told edie. “We’re hoping that ours will have an impact on theirs.”

Crucially, the UK chemicals policy will see the chemicals industry supplying hazard assessments in lieu of the risk assessments that have been used since introduction of an EU regulation in 1993. DETR’s new chemicals strategy emphasises how slow risk assessments have proven, failing to acknowledge that in many areas – including health questions that surround phthalates in soft PVC toys and brominated flame retardants – environmentalists believe the UK has stalled European progress by clinging to risk assessments.

The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) has welcomed the Government’s new chemicals strategy but has emphasised its hope that further regulation of chemicals already on the market will not be necessary. “The targets set out in the paper are challenging and CIA intends to work with member companies and government to ensure it delivers its commitments on a voluntary basis,” the association stated.

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