European Union Reaches for Control of Hazardous Chemicals

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 20, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission's proposal for a system of controlling hazardous chemicals is currently under examination by the European Parliament. REACH - Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals - would establish a new agency to deal with the most dangerous of the thousands of chemicals manufactured and used in Europe each year.

In their remarks at a European Parliament public hearing Wednesday, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas of Greece and Vice President for Enterprise and Industry Günter Verheugen of Germany each underlined the Commission’s commitment to helping find a balanced solution to the main issues being discussed in the ongoing legislative procedure for the adoption of REACH.

They both stressed the importance of delivering health and environment improvements while safeguarding the competitiveness of European industry and small and medium enterprises in particular.


European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas addresses Parliament (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Still Dimas was insistent on moving the process forward without delay. “It is high time for industry to provide the necessary information on the chemicals they produce, to ensure they are used and handled safely," he said.

"European citizens have the right to expect a high level of protection for their health and for the environment – also in the field of chemicals. REACH has been designed in extensive consultation with stakeholders to strike a careful balance between the need for protection and workability for the companies involved," said Dimas.

Verheugen is responsible for the 10 new EU states that joined the Union last May and for the several more that are entering the accession process. "We need to be very attentive to the need to avoid problems for downstream industries especially as a result of withdrawal of substances and to encourage innovation both as regards new substances and new uses of existing substances which is key to competitiveness,” he said.

According to the Commission proposal, enterprises that manufacture or import more than one metric ton of a chemical substance per year will be required to register it in a central database, and to communicate and take adequate measures to control the identified risks.


Vice President for Enterprise and Industry Günter Verheugen is also responsible for enlargement. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
"The efforts of Parliament to find imaginative solutions for emerging practical difficulties have my full support," Verheugen told the lawmakers.

To a question by Parliament's lead rapporteur Guido Sacconi of Italy, who is a member of the Environment Committee, on the possibility that the Commission might put forward a new proposal in the light of new impact studies, Verheugen said the Commission wanted to sound out the will of Parliament and Council first.

"It is premature to say whether there will be structural changes," he said.

When Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MEP from the United Kingdom accused the Commission of being biased and only involving the industry and not environmental and health experts in the new impact assessment, Verheugen replied, "This procedure decided by the previous Commission is something that I didn't agree to, and we should develop a method that involves everyone in these studies."

For the Council of Ministers, the Dutch State Secretary for Environment Pieter van Geel was supported by the Luxembourg ministers Lucien Lux, who is responsible for environment, and Jeannot Krecke, the economy minister, when he explained that the Council is also trying to find practical solutions for REACH.

A Council workshop held in October 2004 under the Dutch presidency will continue working under the current Luxembourg presidency, van Geel said.

chemical plant

Acetyls chemical complex at BP's Saltend Works, Hull, England. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
In complement to the extended impact assessment published with the REACH proposal, case studies are being carried out by industry as part of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commission and in cooperation with other stakeholders.

The case studies explore the impact of REACH in selected industrial supply chains that produce and use chemicals in important processes and products. Particular attention will be paid to the situation in the new member states.

In the course of identifying possible ways forward Verheugen pointed to the ongoing discussions about further prioritization in the system, which would ensure that the most dangerous substances are dealt with in the early years and the requirements are proportionate to likely risks.

He also stressed the importance of reducing the burden for small enterprises and of a strong, well equipped Chemicals Agency without which the expected benefits from REACH will not materialize.

Dimas stressed the importance of preparing guidance to assist small and medium enterprises in the implementation of the new system.

He also pointed to the link between substitution of dangerous chemicals through market dynamics and innovation, and cited as a successful example the phasing out of chloroflurocarbons, or CFCs, that deplete the ozone layer.

Both Commissioners highlighted the importance of the further development and acceptance of non-animal tests which will save animals’ lives and cut costs.

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