EU needs to change the chemical legislation

Apr 25, 1998 02:00 AM

The European Union is to examine its policies on chemicals, European Environment Commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard said recently.
"We all agreed there is a need to change the chemical legislation," Bjerregaard told after an informal meeting of EU environment ministers in Chester, north-west England.
There are over 100,000 chemical substances on the EU market. Although EU governments decided in 1994 to begin reassessing the risks they posed, and if necessary find ways of reducing the dangers, not one single substance has been fully reviewed.
British Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who chaired the meeting, said the ministers had asked the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- to propose ways of improving the system by the end of the year.
Meacher said a number of countries in the 15-nation EU wanted the legislation completely overhauled but Bjerregaard said she feared that would take too long and suggested it might be possible to streamline the existing system.
A spokesman for the Danish commissioner told one option might be to introduce a deadline for EU governments to complete risk assessments. If they failed, the chemicals in question would be deemed to be new substances and would have to be taken off the market until they had been properly assessed.
Under an EU law dating from 1979, manufacturers are only allowed to place new chemicals on the market once they have evaluated them for possible harmful effects and submitted the information to Brussels and EU governments for approval.
Bjerregaard said she would consult environmental groups, the chemicals industry, the European Parliament and EU governments before coming up with formal proposals for changing the system.

Meacher said the EU was also looking at improving the system for authorising new chemicals. Although it was working fairly smoothly, public concern remained that these substances were not always controlled properly, he said.
If governments consulted the public more widely and provided better information about their decisions, it might be possible to ease unnecessary public fears and tackle their legitimate concerns, he said.
Meacher announced Britain was to spend 3 million pounds on research into the possible effect of chemicals on falling sperm counts in humans and fish.
Bjerregaard said she would welcome more research into the links between chemicals and breast cancer.

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