EU chemicals strategy delayed till autumn

"Sensitive" discussions continue between Commission enterprise, environment, directorates

Planned publication of a wide-ranging review of EU chemicals regulation by the European Commission has been delayed until after the summer, ENDS Daily has learned. A new strategy for chemicals management is still targeted for presentation to environment ministers in October, but a Commission source said the fine details of the plan had still to get through "sensitive" internal discussions before being adopted.

The chemicals review is being led by the Commission's enterprise and environment directorates and had been due to be adopted this summer (ENDS Daily 7 December 1999). The review's mandate is to shift the onus of ensuring chemicals are safe from member state authorities to chemicals producers and users. It was prompted by snail-like progress to assess risks posed by thousands of "existing" chemicals put on the EU market before 1981 (ENDS Daily 23 May).

Currently such assessments are the responsibility of member states, which must prove that a chemical is dangerous before risk reduction measures can be proposed. The source said the two lead directorates now had a "philosophical agreement" to reverse the burden of proof, so that producers will have to prove their products are safe before they can market them. The discussions will settle how high this hurdle should be and what form it should take, the source said.

The source stressed that discussion were still at very early stages, but that the Commission was "playing with the thought" of giving manufacturers a certain period to prove that high-production volume existing substances were safe enough to remain on the market. Otherwise their products would be treated as "new" chemicals and require the consent of all 15 member states before further sales were approved.

Other issues being discussed by the Commission are a tightening up of "new" chemical approvals by replacing "tacit" marketing consents with a more rigorous authorisation procedure in the case of carcinogenic or mutagenic substances, and degree of legal liability faced by producers. A proposal to create an EU-wide chemicals agency now had broad support within the Commission, the source said, but the extent of its remit was far from being decided.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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