From: Robina Suwol
Date: 13 Oct 2006
Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
EU lawmakers uphold environmentalist approach on
by: Fabrice RandouxTue
Oct 10, 2:37 PM ET
After three years of heated debate, the European Parliament began the final phase of approving controversial new rules on the use of chemicals to better protect people and the environment.
The parliament's environment committee voted to stand by a more ecologically friendly version of the regulations by insisting that industry endeavour to phase out the most dangerous chemicals.
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.
A draft version was approved by European Union governments in December, with the hope that the measures could enter into force next year, but it was condemned by ecolgosists and health campaigners.
Industry lobby groups have also worked tirelessly to influence the text.
The committee backed a "substitution principle" that only allows hazardous products under three conditions: there must be no safer alternative, the benefits must outweigh the risks and the risks must be "adequately controlled."
After the vote -- passed by 42 for, 12 against and six abstentions -- the assembly's rapporteur, Italian MEP Guido Sacconi, said that the EU government's position was not "diametrically opposed" to that of parliament.
"There is about a 70-percent chance" of an agreement, he told reporters.
The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) accused the committee of turning the clock back on what had been agreed to by the EU's 26 member states.
Cefic director Alain Perroy said the vote "will hamper the ability of REACH to archive its goals to drive both greater safety of products and competitiveness of the European industry."
The industry lobby said the strict criteria for substitution would lead to the banning of certain substances even if there are clear socio-economic benefits in having them and no alternative is available.
"For industry it is time that the REACH regulation gets finally adopted, ending a long period of uncertainty, as we need to start the implementation phase," added Cefic president Francois Cornelis.
Europe's chemicals industry accounts for 28 percent of world-wide production and is said to be worth at least 400 billion euros (500 billion dollars) in annual sales. It employs 1.3 million people through 27,000 companies.
REACH would see the regulation of more than 30,000 substances at the European Chemical Agency within 11 years. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, estimates that around 1,500 of them could be dangerous.
Environmental, woman's and consumer groups said the vote, and in particular the "substitution principle," was a vital step toward protecting health and the environment from chemical contamination.
"This legal obligation is essential to drive innovation of safer chemicals, in order to end the build-up of harmful substances in our bodies and the environment," said a joint statement.
It was also welcomed by the European Trade Union Confederation, which urged EU countries to follow the line taken by the environment committee.