NGOs call on European Commission to stop reversing on chemicals reform | WWF

NGOs call on European Commission to stop reversing on chemicals reform

Posted on
25 September 2003
Brussels, Belgium – In a press conference today, environmental and consumer NGOs reacted strongly to leaked European Commission ‘interservice’ legislative texts on the new EU Chemicals Policy, REACH. The documents reveal that the European Commission plans to make far-reaching concessions to industry: • granting businesses new and excessive confidentiality rights, with automatic anonymity to any company that registers its chemicals; • cutting back the duty to provide safety data for two-thirds of all chemicals. This is a major reduction in the safety information required for chemicals produced in quantities of less than 10 tonnes per year (around 20,000 of the 30,000 chemicals on the market); • excluding chemicals in consumer products from any effective control; • continuing to allow the use of hazardous chemicals even when safer alternatives are available. Small changes to improve substitution have been made, but a gaping loophole remains. The organizations — BEUC (the European Consumers Association), the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and WWF — call on the European Commission to stand up to EU Member State interference and industry pressure and take the necessary measures to protect European citizens, wildlife, and the environment from harmful chemicals. The organizations urge the European Commission to reintroduce the necessary clauses. Charlotte de Roo of BEUC, the European Consumers’ Association, stated: "Chemicals play a major part in everyday consumer products; for example in clothes and cosmetics. Today we do not know what influence these chemicals have on our health and our environment. With this new text we won't know in the future either. Unfortunately the Commission seems to be more occupied with business interests than with consumer health and safety. It is crucial that REACH covers all consumer products to ensure a sound chemical legislation for the benefit of the citizens." Stefan Scheuer from the European Environmental Bureau said: "An internal Commission study puts occupational health benefits at up to 54 billion Euro. Overall benefits have been estimated to reach 260 billion Euro. The direct costs are very small in comparison: 3.6 billion Euro for registering 30,000 chemicals. This represents only 0.1% of the chemical industry’s annual turnover. By trying to cut these comparatively low costs even further, Enterprise Commissioner Liikanen sacrifices protection of public health." Friends’ of the Earth’s Mary Taylor commented: "It is quite possible that the new text is against the provisions of the Commission's regulation on access to its own documents and the Aarhus Convention, to which the European Community is a signatory." Michael Warhurst of WWF said: "WWF asks the European Commission to table to a robust REACH law for the decision-makers to debate. If the Commission does not have the courage to do so we will be looking to the European Parliament to reinstate the necessary provisions to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals." Jorgo Iwasaki Riss of Greenpeace added: "The new text would allow industry to continue using chemicals that accumulate in breast milk, reduce fertility, and cause allergies. Such chemicals are currently used in children’s toys and many other widespread household goods. Instead of forcing industry to substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives the loophole in this proposal encourages irresponsible business as usual." In 1998 the EU identified the need to reform the existing chemicals laws. In 2001 the European Commission published a White Paper on a Future Chemicals Policy stating: "There is a general lack of knowledge about the properties and the uses of existing substances. The risk assessment process is slow and resource-intensive and does not allow the system to work efficiently and effectively. The allocation of responsibilities is inappropriate because authorities are responsible for the assessment instead of enterprises which produce, import or use the substances ... Final risk assessments have ... only been completed for a small number of substances." The European Parliament and Council supported the Commission’s original proposals and requested strengthening provisions to protect human health and the environment. The Commission, after heavy industry pressure, launched in June 2003 an internet consultation on a draft regulation. Currently the Commission is finalising its proposal to be adopted on 29 October 2003.

For more information
Charlotte de Roo, BEUC Tel: +32 2 743 1590 Stefan Scheuer, European Environmental Bureau Tel: +32 2 289 1090 E-mail: stefan.scheuer@eeb.org Mary Taylor, Friends of the Earth Tel: +44 20 7566 1687 E-mail: maryt@foe.co.uk Jorgo Iwasaki Riss, Greenpeace Tel: +32 2 274 1907 E-mail: jorgo.riss@diala.greenpeace.org WWF Tel: +32 2 743 8806 
WWF joins environmental and consumer's groups to call for a toxics free future.
© WWF / Lise Devaux