EU to launch toxic chemicals crackdown
BRUSSELS - European Union industry will face the biggest new environmental crackdown in years when the European Commission unveils a bill yesterday to control the toxic threat posed by thousands of manufactured chemicals.
The law, if agreed by EU governments and the European Parliament, will force chemicals firms to disclose the hazardous properties of tens of thousands of substances which are already on the market but which have not been through safety tests.
\"The new European chemicals legislation...is
the biggest and most important reform of EU health and environment protection,\" environmental groups said.
Industry is taking the measure equally seriously and has lobbied hard against it, saying it could lop whole percentage points off countries\' economic output and make millions jobless as manufacturing quits the EU for more business-friendly climes.
That lobbying message got through and the leaders of the EU\'s three biggest economies, Germany, France and Britain, home to big names like BASF (BASF.DE: Quote, Profile, Research) , Rhodia (RHA.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) and ICI (ICI.L: Quote, Profile, Research) , told the Commission to tone down an initial draft.
Despite that pressure, and continuing internal wrangling, the EU\'s executive has said it will issue the bill yesterday, five years after it started working in earnest on the issue.
SCREENING FOR DANGER Some of the pressure for action came from consumer groups who in the 1990s said chemicals might be to blame for rising cases of asthma and falling sperm counts.
\"Consumer exposure to common products like textiles, computers, floor covering and their long-term effects have never been evaluated in the EU,\" said consumer group BEUC.
A loophole in EU legislation means that although new chemicals have to undergo rigorous testing, those already on the market before 1981 do not.
The new law will require firms to register some 30,000 substances in a central EU database so they can be screened for possible risks to humans and the environment. The most toxic might be banned or require a special permit to be used.
That would take until 2016 and the Commission has estimated the cost at some 5.2 billion euros ($6.07 billion) to industry over the next decade. The sector boasts annual sales of 528 billion euros.
The proposals force industry to prove products are safe, reversing the current burden of proof where government agencies have to show evidence before banning suspect substances.
Industry has said it supports the aims of the bill, but that the cost and the impact on industrial users could be massive.
But consumer and environmental groups say industry has been winning the lobbying war and have slammed changes the Commission made to its first draft which reduce the data firms have to submit for two thirds of the substances. They also say the Commission inserted a fatal flaw to the bill which will allow industry to continue to use very harmful substances in products, such as ones that cause cancer, as long as they can be \"adequately controlled\".
That phrase is likely to be at the heart of the battle which will go on as the bill passes through the European Parliament and the EU\'s Council of Minister, both of which can amend and ultimately kill the bill.
Hopes that it can be \"greened\" means that the campaign groups are still supporting the bill and not calling for the resignation of EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, Greenpeace\'s Jorgo Iwasaki Riss said.
\"They (the Commission) have taken off the muscles but the skeleton is still there, but some of the bones are cracking. It is up to the parliament and the council (EU ministers) to put the meat back on.\"
Story by Robin Pomeroy
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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