Swedish firms fear change in chemicals policy

New emphasis on market forces will lead to repercussions throughout Europe, predict observers

Swedish chemical firms have warned that the government risks deterring potential investors and confusing consumers if it accepts the major shift in chemicals policy recommended yesterday by an advisory committee (ENDS Daily 16 June).

The government is expected to consult widely on the recommendations of its chemicals policy committee over the summer before deciding on official policy. One of the committee's most controversial proposals is that the government should treat persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals as hazardous, and aim to eliminate them, even if they have not been shown to be toxic.

Owe Friedholm of the Association of Swedish Chemical Industries described the idea as "unacceptable". He said that the industry would insist on risk assessment of individual chemicals as a basis for policy decisions. To do otherwise, he suggested, would be like saying "you have to ban all cars because you have not done a risk assessment to find out which ones are inherently most dangerous."

Mr Friedholm described the committee's report as "political" rather than scientific. He warned that its proposals to require detailed product labelling of chemical contents and for early phase-out dates for hazardous chemicals would deter investors and confuse consumers, even if implemented through voluntary agreements.

"They [the committee] have put out such strong signals that we are afraid that consumers will try to find substitutes for chemicals without there being any risk assessment of those substitutes....They could make wrong decisions," he said.

Both the association, and the Federation of Swedish Industries have urged the government to press for international consensus for higher standards, rather than going further at national level alone. Otherwise, they argue, Swedish industry will be damaged with minimal benefit to the environment because much of the impact comes from imported products.

Greenpeace Sweden described the committee's emphasis on voluntary agreements as the "main weak point" of an otherwise "very positive" report. Campaigns director Mats Abrahamsson, said the organisation is planning campaigns to inform consumers both in Sweden and the rest of Europe about the committee's recommendations.

Bo Jansson, a chemicals expert at the Swedish Institute of Applied Environmental Research, said the committee was "wise" to recommend that persistence and bioaccumulation are enough to warrant control of chemicals because it could take generations to remove them from the ecosystem. He predicted that the committee's emphasis on market forces to implement its recommendations - reinforced by campaigns by environmental groups - would lead to Swedish policy having repercussions throughout Europe.

Follow Up:
Association of Swedish Chemical Industries ; Federation of Swedish Industries both at tel: +46 8 783 8000; Greenpeace Sweden , tel: +46 8 702 7070.

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