EU crack-down on toxic chemicals defended

Commission officials unite behind new authorisation procedure against industry criticisms

European Commission officials are standing firm behind a plan to ban certain dangerous chemicals unless manufacturers can prove safety of use in particular applications. The proposed new "authorisation" requirement is among the most controversial elements of a new EU chemicals policy proposed earlier this year (ENDS Daily 14 February).

The views emerged at a stakeholder conference on chemicals regulation organised by the Commission on Monday. Environment directorate officials made a strong defence of authorisation, described by deputy director-general Jean-François Verstrynge as an "integral" part of the package. More significant still, according to participants, was backing given by officials from its sister enterprise directorate, which co-wrote the February white paper.

Under the Commission's proposals, chemical firms would have to register about 30,000 and evaluate about 5,000 substances by 2012, most of them "existing chemicals" already on the market. The tougher authorisation requirement would apply to chemicals of "high concern". It would involve prohibition of currently sold chemicals after a certain time except where manufacturers won specific marketing consents by demonstrating safety of use in particular applications.

European chemical firms continued to argue against authorisation during Monday's conference. "It will not bring additional protection for so-called substances of high concern," said Alain Perroy of Cefic, who called instead for maintenance of the existing regulatory model, but with steps to speed up risk assessments.

Participants also sparred over the proposed 2012 deadline registration and evaluation of chemicals. Cefic wants a delay, but was opposed by Commission officials as well as environmentalists. Environmental groups used the forum to call for a further strengthening of the Commission's proposals.

A member state representative, Jan van der Kolk of the Dutch environment ministry, said the new policy should take a stronger line on persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals and endocrine disrupters. "The white paper does not fulfil the demands of the council [of environment ministers]," he said.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. Conference proceedings will appear on the chemicals pages of DG Enterprise and DG Environment. See also speeches by environment commissioner Margot Wallström, Jean-François Verstrynge, and Cefic's chemical policy review website.

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