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Prodi Commission fails to protect us from hazardous chemicals - EEB

07 May 2003, 15:12 CET

While the European Commission today agreed to publish a text for a new chemicals regulation, they failed however to endorse the key components of the regulation, though this was requested by Commissioners Wallstroem and Liikanen. They have also created significant further delay in the process, as a result of an extended internet consultation.

Environmental NGOs blame the Commission President for failing to take leadership on one of the biggest reforms of this Commission. At stake is the protection of human health and the environment in Europe, where over 30,000 chemicals are currently marketed and used without adequate environmental and health assessment. The Commission is failing to act on hazardous chemicals, despite ample evidence of widespread accumulation of chemicals in our bodies and the environment.

In addition, the Commission has extended the internet consultation on the draft regulation from 5-8 weeks as a result of industry pressure - this consultation is in addition to the four years of discussion that have already occurred, and the two years of the co-decision process ahead. While minor on the surface, these three extra weeks will ensure that the Commission cannot publish its proposal before summer. In consequence the European Parliament will not be able to hold a first reading by the 2004 elections. The overall effect of this will be a delay of at least a year in the completion of this important regulation.

Environmental NGOs had great hopes for the reform outlined in the Commission White Paper from February 2001, which was strongly supported by Parliament and Council. The White Paper proposed to oblige industry to provide safety data on the chemicals sold, and included a new authorisation system for phasing out the use of hazardous chemicals. However, it is now clear that Commissioner Wallström and Liikanen have backed down on crucial components of the reform, failing to include an obligation on industry to stop using hazardous chemicals when safer alternatives are available, abandoning the principle of public right to know, and failing to provide proper protection from chemicals in imported products. This cut-down system will not encourage the chemical industry to become sustainable.

Stefan Scheuer from EEB said today: "Prodi's lack of leadership on this issue is causing further delay - a delay which, according to the Commission's own figures, will cause up to 4300 unnecessary cancer cases per year. It is Prodi's role to lead the reform and to ensure that the wishes of society are reflected in the result - and not only short-term business self-interest."

Michael Warhurst from WWF added: "It comes down to one question - do we want to phase out the chemicals that accumulate in wildlife and ourselves, and those that disrupt our hormones? I believe that the European public does - and the European Commission is failing to get moving on this crucial task."

Jorgo Iwasaki-Riss from Greenpeace added: "The very fact that hazardous chemicals are found in common consumer products - televisions, perfumes, sportswear, cleaning and body products - only shows the degree to which poorly- or unregulated chemicals have permeated our society and environment. Even ordinary housedust has become saturated with these chemicals. To protect public health and the environment, Europe needs legislation that will require industry to substitute such hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives."

Mary Taylor from Friends of the Earth added: "According to a recent poll, Europeans are increasingly 'very worried' about the use of chemicals. Consumers want safer chemicals and an industry that invests in such innovation. It's the Commission's duty to act to promote this".

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is a federation of 135 environmental citizens' organisations based in all EU Member States and most Candidate Countries, as well as in some neighbouring countries. These organisations range from local and national, to European and international. The aim of the EEB is to protect and improve the environment of Europe and to enable the citizens of Europe to play their part in achieving that goal.

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