Sweden puts ecocycle into chemicals policy

Persistence and bioaccumulation enough to merit phase-out of chemicals, says government committee

In a major report on future chemicals policy, a Swedish government committee today recommended phasing out a wide range of hazardous substances in products. The report makes a radical proposal to judge chemicals as hazardous solely if they are persistent and bioaccumulative, dropping the usual third characteristic of toxicity.

The Chemicals Policy Committee was set up last year to make a wide-ranging review of chemicals policy in Sweden. Its report recommends that product life cycles be placed at the core of chemical policies and that industry should be given primary responsibility for reducing chemical risks.

The most ambitious aspect of the report, according to committee secretary, Annika Helker Lundström, is its recommendation of a far stricter definition of hazardous substances than is currently recognised in European circles.

At the Fourth North Sea Conference in 1995, European environment ministers called for the elimination of discharges to the environment of substances that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. But the committee says that toxicity criterion should be dropped, because experience suggests that new, "unexpected" forms of toxicity may emerge in future.

If persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals are subsequently shown to be toxic, it will be too late to control them, the committee argues. It recommends that the use of persistent and bioaccumulative substances in products should be ended in Sweden by 2007.

The committee recommends that future chemicals policy should focus on chemical use and dispersion throughout product life cycles, not just on impacts during chemical production. The policy should also move towards tackling "generic" groups of chemicals, such as persistent, organic man-made chemicals, in preference to the current substance-by-substance risk assessment approach. The committee argues that it will take "centuries" to assess the majority of chemicals currently on the market and that this approach is too costly in time and resources.

Industry, including both suppliers and purchasers, should bear the main responsibility for reducing risks from chemicals, the committee says. For example, it wants all companies to specify chemical content on product labels by 2002. As part of this approach, the committee stresses that future policies should encourage voluntary cooperation between industry, government and consumers, with legislation providing a general framework.

The committee recommends that the government should set the pace for chemicals policy in the EU, and push in the long-term for EU legislation to phase out the marketing and use of persistent and bioaccumulative organic man-made substances. A specific target is PVC, which the committee says does "not belong in the future ecocycle society" and should be phased out by 2007.

Follow Up:
Swedish environment ministry , tel: +46 8 405 1000.

Please sign in to access this article. To subscribe, view our subscription options, or take out a free trial.

Please enter your details

Forgotten password?

Having trouble signing in?

Contact Customer Support at
or call 020 8267 8120

Not a subscriber?

Take a free trial now to discover the critical insights and updates our coverage offers subscribers.