Wallström pushes for EU chemicals agency

Commissioner says centralised body would provide "level playing field" for risk assessments

The European Commission is considering introducing a central EU chemicals agency to make the bloc's regulatory framework for assessments more consistent, environment commissioner Margot Wallström told industry and pressure group representatives yesterday. If it gains approval from the full college of commissioners, the plan will be included in a new chemicals management strategy that the Commission intends to publish before the middle of next year.

Under the current chemicals management system, new chemicals notified, assessed and approved for use in one member state can automatically be marketed EU-wide. "Existing" chemicals notified before the scheme came into force in 1981, however, underwent less stringent assessment before marketing was permitted. A retrospective risk assessment programme for these chemicals has been underway for six years, with individual substances allocated for assessment by a particular member state.

Earlier this year Ms Wallström's predecessor, Ritt Bjerregaard, told a "brainstorming" session on the future of chemicals policy that the existing system "just isn't doing the job" (ENDS Daily 26 February). Some member states are also unhappy at the slow progress of the existing substances assessment. The Netherlands and Sweden have argued for legislation to control chlorinated paraffins and brominated flame retardants before the assessments have been completed.

Speaking to a gathering of stakeholders organised by chemical industry association Cefic, Ms Wallström said the future enlargement of the union would mean such a "decentralised" system based on mutual recognition "will not be able to guarantee that chemical substances are placed on the market under equal conditions with the same level of protection."

Although she stressed that member states should play a "major role" in any future assessment system, she said the Commission was "investigating the merits and drawbacks of creating a central entity to provide necessary guarantees for a high level of protection as well as a level playing field for existing chemicals." The EU's chemicals research agency, the European Chemicals Bureau (ECB), "could lend itself as a starting point for such a centralised system," she said.

The organiser of the "stakeholder dialogue", Cefic's Dick Robson, said the move would be welcomed by the industry if centralisation could provide "processes guaranteeing better coordination and transparency" in chemicals management. Cefic is undertaking its own risk assessment of some existing substances under the "high production volume chemicals initiative" (ENDS Daily 17 August 1998).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Cefic, tel: +32 2 676 7211.

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