Danish bid to ban lead "unjustified"

EU scientific committee rejects plans for wide-ranging prohibition, pledges to review intake limits

Danish plans to introduce a wide-ranging ban on the heavy metal lead for health reasons are scientifically unjustified, a European Commission scientific committee has decided. The opinion backs objections raised by 12 EU member states and the European Commission last year. However, the committee has concluded that the current maximum permissible lead intake limit may be too high.

"The Danish authorities have [not] provided sound scientific evidence to demonstrate that the introduction of a general ban on the use of lead products would result in a significant additional reduction in the body burdens of lead of the general population," the Scientific Committee on Toxicology, Ecotoxicology and Environment (CSTEE) says in a report agreed last month and published today.

Existing lead contamination from "historical" sources such petrol additives are the major source of lead in blood, the CSTEE says, and the influence of products currently being sold is "probably small." Danish claims that the lead burden on the general environment is increasing are supported only by "very limited data," it says.

Denmark notified its intention to ban the import, manufacture and sale of lead and leaded products in late 1998 (ENDS Daily 15 March 1999). The first provisions were due to come into force last November, but after Commission protests that the move was "disproportionate" the government agreed to suspend implementation until the CSTEE had delivered an opinion.

A spokesperson for EU industry commissioner Erkki Liikanen told ENDS Daily the report "speaks for itself" and "supports [our] initial reaction." He said the Danish government must now decide whether to amend its proposals in line with the findings or push ahead regardless.

The opinion has delighted the lead industry, which fears a damaging precedent if Denmark succeeds in introducing such a wide-ranging ban. Dr Andrew Bush of the Lead Development Association International said it was "very encouraging" and had implications for other EU rules currently in the spotlight. It "clearly questions the scientific justification" for proposed and agreed EU bans on lead in electronics and vehicles respectively, he said.

One finding will cheer the Danish government, however. Although the CSTEE says Danish claims that maximum lead intake levels are being exceeded for children are "probably not correct," it adds that levels of lead in blood previously thought safe by the World Health Organisation might in fact be dangerous. The committee is to "review the appropriateness" of current intake requirements "in the near future".

The Danish government would respond to the CSTEE once officials and environment minister Svend Auken had fully read the opinion, a spokesperson said today.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; see also the CSTEE and the lead opinion; Lead Development Association International, tel: +44 20 74 99 84 22.

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