The draft EU chemicals law REACH, expected to be published on Wednesday (29 October) by the European Commission, could make an important contribution to reducing the risk posed to wildlife and humans by chemicals, but to be really effective it needs strengthening, said WWF today.
Costing some ten times less than half a per cent of the chemical industry’s turnover over ten years, REACH should lead to the identification and better control (or phasing out) of the most harmful chemicals.
The European Union currently allows its citizens to be exposed to at least 25,000 chemicals that do not have adequate safety information publicly available. Increasing numbers of chemicals are now known to have potentially dangerous properties: some can interfere with the hormone systems of humans and wildlife, others do not break down in nature but accumulate in our bodies. Many of these chemicals are to be found in everyday objects such as computers, fabrics, cleaning products, and food and drink containers. These chemicals have contaminated many parts of the earth and are found in the bodies of humans and wildlife.
Due to intense pressure from industry, the European Commission’s draft is expected to be considerably weaker than the one presented for consultation earlier this year, according to a text leaked recently. Key changes in this leaked text included:
• a big reduction in the safety information required for two thirds of chemicals (those produced in quantities of 1-10 tonnes per year — around 20,000 of the 30,000 chemicals on the market)
• granting business excessive confidentiality rights, with anonymity to any company that registers its chemicals
• reducing protection from chemicals in products imported into the EU — unless the product is designed to release a chemical, companies don’t have to worry if the product contains chemicals unregistered in the EU
• continuing to allow the use of hazardous chemicals even when safer alternatives are available.
However, WWF and other NGOs have been pushing for these key concerns to be addressed by Commissioners during their discussions on Wednesday.
Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy office, said: “REACH will bring world-wide benefits for health, the environment and industrial standards. It is a significant step forward, despite the European Commission giving too many concessions to industry. If the European Commission releases the draft as it was in late September, WWF will be looking to the European Parliament and EU governments to redress the balance. It is time to put the health of future generations of people and animals at the heart of this debate.”