Denmark moves to tighten chemicals control

Government seeks improved monitoring, tougher penalties, extended list of "undesirables"

Denmark is to strengthen controls on the use of chemicals and expand its list of "undesirable" substances as part of a strategy released on Friday.

The Environmental Protection Agency will beef up its inspection system with the formation of a new unit within its chemicals division. Companies will be given greater responsibility for assessing their products' impact on health and the environment, and making information about any risks widely available to the public. Stiff penalties – including possible bans on sales – will be applied to firms that do not comply. A parallel has been drawn with the EU cosmetics directive, which obliges companies to compile a dossier of product information.

EPA officials stress that they want the tightening of controls to take place in consultation with like-minded countries and, if possible, with the EU - "although movement on this is still very slow there." They hope to have the updated list of undesirable substances ready by the end of 1999.

A new computer modelling system developed in the ministry and run on about 165,000 different substances will be an important tool in assessing the dangers of chemicals-based substances, according to officials. Denmark hopes the method will provide important input to the EU's classificatory work. Wherever possible, companies will be urged to substitute harmful substances.

The government is now drawing up an action plan on phthalates, which ENDS Daily understands may incorporate the use of taxes and whose completion is targeted for the end of June. The environment ministry is particularly concerned about the use of phthalates in soft plastic toys. A 28-page booklet on chemicals in children's daily life published last week and circulated to all childcare institutions in the country strongly recommends that such toys were not bought for children under three years old.

A special committee, the Bichel committee, is expected to report in March on the possible consequences of phasing out the use of pesticides in agriculture. This may form the basis for a new action plan. A report-back is also due back before mid-summer on the use of PVC.

Other elements in the strategy – which covers the next two-to-five years – are capacity building in developing countries, and incorporating and lobbying for international conventions such as those on prior informed consent and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

The Association of Danish Chemical Industries broadly welcomed the new measures as a framework for cooperation, although it wished it had been consulted earlier. A spokesperson said that the 95% of Danish industry that complied with the current regulations would welcome a tightening up of controls on the minority that did not.

Follow Up:
Danish Environmental Protection Agency, tel: +45 32 66 01 54.

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