UK presses for faster chemicals assessment

Government moves to strengthen industry responsibility, increase participation, precaution

The UK government today unveiled a strategy on industrial chemicals, including pledges to speed up risk assessment, enable precautionary risk management and encourage wide stakeholder involvement in policy development.

Based on a consultation paper released last summer (ENDS Daily 27 July 1998), the strategy focuses on speeding up assessment of thousands of "existing" chemicals placed on the market before 1981. Despite years of collaborative effort by EU governments, only four full risk assessments have been completed, sparking a major European policy review (ENDS Daily 27 April 1998).

The UK government strategy welcomes a pledge by the international chemical industry to provide hazard assessments for 1,000 high production volume chemicals, as well as one by European firms to go beyond this by making initial risk assessments of chemicals of concern (ENDS Daily 20 October 1998).

The strategy calls on British companies to make "early and tangible progress" on these commitments, in particular by establishing patterns of use and exposure as soon as a hazard assessment gives any cause for concern. The UK will develop criteria for deciding when an initial risk assessment should be undertaken and will press for EU-wide agreement on this, the strategy adds.

To avoid the time-consuming process of full risk assessment, the strategy includes a pledge to target assessments "on uses of chemicals and those parts of the environment where it is anticipated that there may be concern".

The government promises to keep the assessment process under continual review. Unless sufficient progress has been made by 2004, it says, it will "press for legislation in Europe to make assessments mandatory... The legislation we would seek would provide that failure to comply with the assessment requirement will lead to the chemical being withdrawn from the market."

Where there is cause for concern, action will be taken based on the precautionary principle, the strategy stresses. In practice, it says, the principle will be applied by: fast tracking chemicals that meet certain criteria for risk management, agreeing voluntary risk reduction strategies with industry, and putting forward for priority review any high production volume chemical that is persistent and bioaccumulative even if it is not proved to be toxic.

A key mechanism for implementing the policy will be a new stakeholder forum to be created by next summer. In particular, the forum will advise on establishing criteria to identify chemicals that require risk management, as well as on risk management strategies. It will also review persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals that have been selected for priority review.

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 171 890 3000. References: "Sustainable Production and Use of Chemicals" (due to be posted on the ministry's web site at http://www.environment.detr.gov.uk/chemistrat).

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