Chemical sector secures shifts on proposed rules

Europe’s chemical industries last week welcomed European Parliament backing for industry-led amendments to EU proposals on regulating chemicals.

The Chemical Industries Association and its counterparts across Europe had attacked the European Commission’s chemicals policy white paper for proposing an over-bureaucratic and impracticable regulatory regime for chemicals, which threatened to damage the industry’s competitiveness.

But lobbying by the German and UK industries in particular led to 113 amendments being tabled when the white paper was debated last Thursday.

Environment campaigners, however, attacked MEPs for ‘caving in’ to the chemical industry and weakening crucial aspects of the proposals.

The European Commission proposals aim to replace four pieces of legislation: the Existing Substances Regulation, the Dangerous Substances Directive, the Dangerous Preparations Directive and the Marketing and Use Directive.

The initiative arose from problems in the regime for existing substances and was intended to lead to new regulations coming in force by 2004. The key amendments passed included the rejection of a call for a register of all substances produced to include low-volume chemicals produced at the rate of less than 1 tonne annually.

MEPs also asked the commission to scrap plans to include persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances in the proposed registration and authorisation system. Four amendments to safeguard the competitiveness of smaller firms were also passed.The European Commission will now draft legislation based on the white paper, by a target date of July next year.

The chemical industry argued that while the white paper was ‘a clear improvement’ for the regulation of new substances it was potentially ‘extremely burdensome’ for all others. It would have required 30,000 substances to be tested by 2012.

The industry claimed that the white paper took an ‘unduly pessimistic’ view of the current situation, and was based on the premise that there are many dangerous chemicals being used in ways that pose a threat to human health or the environment. The commission failed to recognise the chemical industries’ voluntary ‘Confidence in Chemicals’ initiative to test 1,000 large-volume chemicals by the end of 2004, which it says has essentially the same aims as the proposals.

The UK government has argued for emphasis on effective action rather than on testing for its own sake, and is concerned about the extent of animal testing the proposed regime would need.

But the key amendment on bioaccumulative materials – chemicals which build up in the body – was only passed because Labour MEPs voted with the Conservatives rather than the European Socialist group, and against UK government policy.

Friends of the Earth’s Dr Michael Warhurst said the commission’s proposals had been strengthened when discussed by the Council of Environment Ministers in June but had now been weakened in crucial aspects.

The amendment was carried by 240 to 201, with 20 abstentions.