MEPs to vote for stricter VOC controls

European Parliament set to tighten draft directive on solvents emissions at first reading

The European Parliament will tomorrow give its first formal opinion of the EU draft directive on emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which contribute to the formation of ozone at ground level. The draft directive was first tabled in November 1996 and secured EU's ministers' approval in a "political agreement" reached last summer (ENDS Daily 20 June 1997).

The measure is intended to reduce industrial VOC emissions in the EU by 70%, at an estimated cost to the solvents industry of Ecu4bn per year. It will affect 20 economic sectors, such as the dry cleaning, pharmaceutical, and vehicle painting industries, and involve approximately 400,000 companies employing some 10m people.

The Parliament will debate the measure late this evening, and MEPs are expected to demand the inclusion of more chlorinated solvents than is currently envisaged. The parliament's environment committee also wants the directive to be applied uniformly throughout the EU, instead of through optional national plans as the Council of Ministers agreed last year. Otherwise, the risk of unfair competition would be too high, MEPs believe.

According to David Bowe, a British Socialist member of the Parliament's environment committee, the Parliament will also call for several other modifications. These include a requirement for measures to protect the health of workers using solvents, inclusion of painting of trams, allowing member states to impose even more stringent restrictions, and reducing further the VOC emissions for wood and leather treatments. On the latter issue, he expects differences of opinion between MEPs from northern and southern EU countries.

In Mr Bowe's view, the successful implementation of the directive will lead to a shift towards more low-solvent paints, whereas in other industries older, more damaging chemicals will be phased out. He expects that the UK presidency will push hard for a common position in the Council of Ministers so that the measure can return to the Parliament for a second opinion later this year and be adopted in the spring of 1999.

He told ENDS Daily that solvents-using industries had nothing to fear. "There will be quite a long lead-in time for compliance with the new laws, so businesses should not suffer," he said. Businesses have until 2010 to comply with the directive's requirements.

A spokesman for the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) generally welcomed the directive's attempts to reduce harm to the environment and implementing more restrictions, as long as it did not put industries at a competitive disadvantage.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; CEFIC, tel: +32 2 676 7211.

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