EU lawmakers adopt controversial REACH chemical bill

AFP, 13 December 2006 – European lawmakers definitively adopted Wednesday tough new rules on the use of hazardous chemicals, passing one of the EU’s most ambitious and hotly disputed legislative packages in years.

The bill, derided by ecologists and industry but praised by consumer groups, aims to ensure that 30,000 chemicals — in products ranging from cleaners to toys to plastics — no longer present risks to human health or the environment.

The parliamentarians overwhelmingly approved the legislation on its second reading by a majority of 529 votes for and 98 against, ending more than three years of lobbying and political wrangling.

The main groups in the Strasbourg assembly — the conservatives, socialists and liberal democrats all voted in favour, while the greens opposed the measures for being too favourable to industry.

After the vote, a beaming parliamentary rapporteur, Italian MEP Guido Sacconi, was handed a bouquet of flowers amid warm applause.

The so-called REACH regulation (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) will oblige companies to register all chemicals they use and provide information about them as well as any potential hazards.

It means that companies will now shoulder the burden of proving that their chemicals are safe. The current 40-year-old system has obliged public authorities to prove that such products are dangerous.

Of the estimated 100,000 substances on the European market, only those introduced since 1981 — a mere 3,000 or so — have been studied for their nocive effects.

The European Union’s Finnish presidency applauded the yes vote. “This is a historic day,” said Finnish Trade and Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen.

“The chemicals regulation will reform the entire EU chemicals legislation and will turn Europe into a global forerunner and trailblazer,” he said.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said REACH “will increase our knowledge about chemicals, enhance safety, and spur innovation while encouraging substitution of highly dangerous substances by safer ones.”

But an alliance of environmental and women’s groups said the final package was only a modest step in the direction of what was needed, and still contained loopholes that the chemicals industry could jump through.

“Major loopholes in REACH will still allow many chemicals that can cause serious health problems — including cancer, birth defects and reproductive illnesses — to continue being used in manufacturing and consumer goods.” they said in a statement.

Greens MEP Caroline Lucas said: “This deal is an early Christmas present for the chemicals industry, rewarding it for its intense and underhand lobbying campaign.”

“While the legislative text has been agreed, the devil will be in the detail of the implementation of these rules,” she said.

Indeed the industry, led by German giant BASF, did push hard. But non-governmental organisations also lobbied in spectacular fashion, at one stage taking blood tests of parliamentarians to show the presence of toxic substances even after they had been banned.

“We regret the unnecessary requirements added to the authorisation element of REACH,” said Alain Perroy, head of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), in a statement.

“The European chemical industry will see REACH as an opportunity to demonstrate that companies have a solid knowledge of chemicals and strong product management practices to ensure chemical safety,” he said.

Europe’s main consumer group BEUC generally welcomed the text itself but worried about how it would be implemented.

“The adoption of REACH is not the end of the story: what has been agreed must now be implemented properly and we will actively monitor the situation,” warned director Jim Murray.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Agence France-Presse (AFP) For more news and articles visit the AFP website.

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