EU states "failing" on chemicals review

"Lack of commitment" a main obstacle to existing substances assessment programme, says DGXI

The European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) has accused EU member states of lacking the commitment needed to carry out risk assessments on thousands of chemicals already on the European market under the "existing substances" regulation.

The existing substances review programme was the focus of a discussion between DGXI and representatives of governments, NGOs and industry on Tuesday (ENDS Daily 14 September). In a paper prepared for the meeting, DGXI identified a "lack of commitment from member states" as the first factor hindering progress on the scheme. It recommended that member states should give a commitment to the process when EU environment ministers meet in December.

This week's meeting marked the first stage of a policy review demanded earlier this year by EU ministers themselves (ENDS Daily 27 April). Despite being launched in 1993, the programme to assess the safety of over 20,000 chemicals sold in quantities above ten tonnes per year in the EU has yet to yield a single official recommendation.

As well as member state apathy, DGXI also blames a lack of resources, a failure to properly identify the real priority substances which most need risk assessments, an over-burdensome data requirement, and the fact that not enough responsibility is placed on industry to carry out the risk assessments.

DGXI says that chemicals companies should perhaps be given what it calls the "burden of proof" in place of member states, which would require industry to play a more active role on testing and evaluation of chemicals. The European chemicals industry association Cefic confirmed to the meeting that it was likely to endorse a voluntary programme of testing later this month (ENDS Daily 17 August).

DGXI has given the interested parties until the end of next week to comment on the paper. One European NGO said this was a ridiculously short time scale and claimed that the Brussels officials were over-hastily trying to be ready to prepare a report to environment ministers for their December meeting. Industry groups are also unhappy with the hurried pace adopted by DGXI. Three major industry bodies were unable to attend Tuesday's meeting because they only received notice of it at the end of last week.

NGOs criticised DGXI for restricting discussion to the working of the existing substances regulation and the dangerous substances directive, instead of addressing the wider picture of chemicals management in the EU, which they believe is due for a radical overhaul. Some member states - notably Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark - also said that a wider review was needed.

DGXI will host a workshop on the future of EU chemicals policy in February, but one NGO said DGXI was approaching the problem in the wrong order. "They are tinkering with existing instruments before addressing the question of what are the aims of a chemicals policy," he said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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