New EU priority water substances list imminent

Commission proposal likely to designate most of 32 chemicals definite or suspected "priority hazardous"

The European Commission is likely to re-propose by the end of the month a 32-strong list of chemicals to be targeted for priority regulatory action under the new water framework directive, ENDS Daily has learned. But the proposal will defer for two years definitive selection from this list of a smaller group of "priority hazardous substances" (PHSs) whose emissions are scheduled under the directive to end within 20 years.

A first priority list originally emerged from the Commission last February (ENDS Daily 24 February 2000), but the proposal has had to be amended following the last minute addition of the PHS concept to the directive during conciliation talks. The Commission began identifying which of the 32 substances already identified should be classified as PHSs last autumn (ENDS Daily 29 September 2000).

A Commission source told ENDS Daily today that the process was almost complete and that the new proposal should emerge by the end of January. The EU's incoming Swedish presidency has already announced that it wants to reach intergovernmental agreement on the list by June.

The draft list of 32 priority substances has not changed, the official said, while around 20 have been identified as either definitely PHSs or "suspected" PHSs. Chemicals in this second category "need further scrutiny" and will undergo a 2-year period of further study and review, after which it will be decided whether they should indeed be classified as PHSs.

Designation of a substance as a PHS could sound the death-knell for its production and use in the EU unless emission-free closed-loop recycling systems can be developed. The official could not say which of the 32 chemicals might be proposed as PHSs as there was still "potential for one or two substances to change".

According to a list circulated by the Commission late last year, however, chemicals listed as definite PHSs include mercury, cadmium, the flame retardant pentabromodiphenylether, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, tributyltin (TBT) and nonyl phenols - all of which are already targeted by various EU environmental laws. Those under review include lead, pentachlorophenol and all other brominated diphenyls.

In a related development, the Commission today published a key study underpinning the proposal - on the socioeconomic impacts of identifying certain chemicals as PHSs. Based on a worst case scenario, it concluded that for some, such as the PVC precursor 1,2-dichloroethane, the costs could be "vast".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and the socioeconomic study.

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