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Sunday, October 19, 2008

REACH, toxic chemicals and general fun

Fun is a complicated word, but recently in my mind, it refers to perverse pleasure of obvious stupidity.
Now let's talk about the great European initiative REACH. Great has a double meaning. From the one side, it's really a good idea and it's badly needed in the moment, because the current regulation in the EU about dangerous chemicals are insufficient and offer a great possibility to escape them. Of course, I don't want to overreact, things are not that bad but the truth is that the fact nobody died out of some substance doesn't mean that that substance don't affect his/her health is not harming him/her. And for me it's clear that whatever new safety regulations you try to implement, the business will always be unhappy. But that doesn't mean they can't or won't obey the new regulations. It's just a psychological battle-everyone is trying to get it in the easiest way. That doesn't mean we should try.
What I find extremely funny is that first, they get the shortest possible list of dangerous substances and they are still not very happy. And secondly that some chemical companies are trying to organise a public debate and a protest against the list. Isn't this lovely? I mean, you see evidences some substances are deadly or very harmful and you say why should we not use it? Isn't this like irresponsible or criminal? For me, this is an absurd and I'm ashamed I see this show. Things should have happened in another way-if something is harmful for the people or for the environment, it simply shouldn't be used. Without any discussion. People's health is more important than anybody's business. And if you're damaging the environment you are also damaging people, because no place on Earth is isolated unless you take very careful measures to isolate it. And still, this will last only for few decades.
And again, we see the issue of the validity scientific opinions used by the EC. The only thing I like to say on this is that if you follow the problems with medical researches in the USA, you'll see that often the experts that gave a favourable opinion, took money from the involved companies. For me, this is unacceptable and I think it's happening in the EU too, but people don't trust the scientists anyway. The only possible option is to monitor very closely the bank accounts of those experts and their families and on the first sight of corruption to put them under criminal charges. Otherwise, people will simply continue acting on emotions rather than on facts.

First REACH list to be short but regularly updated

18 September 2008

The first list of hazardous chemicals to be submitted for EU regulatory approval may only contain 12 substances, said EU Chemicals Agency Director Geert Dancet during a conference which saw the launch of another document listing some 270 chemicals that meet the official REACH criteria for authorisation.

Following the adoption of the EU chemicals legislation REACH in 2006, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHAexternal ) is currently finalising a candidate list of chemicals that present the most cause for concern regarding public health and the environment.

The EU 27 are responsible for proposing substances for inclusion on the list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) such as chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health defects and which persist in the environment and accumulate in our bodies. By the deadline of early June 2008, member states had nominated 16 substancesexternal . In addition, the Commission asked ECHA to prepare dossiersexternal on five other substances.

The first chemicals on the candidate list will be the ones to be put on a priority list and need to go through special scrutiny before they are authorised. The priority list will thus be drafted based on the candidate list and is due to be published in June 2009.

Public interest groups and NGOs jointly drafted a REACH SIN Listexternal of some 270 substances to be substituted in priority under the REACH regulation.

Per Rosander, the director of the International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec), described the list as "the first collaborative effort to identify substances that meet the official REACH criteria for authorisation" and urged companies to take a proactive approach to substituting carcinogenic, persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals with safer alternatives.

While the SIN, or 'Subsitute it now', list identifies hundreds of chemicals of very high concern, the Member State Committee (MSC) of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), in charge of making the proposals for identification of these substances, has so far identified just 16 substancesexternal for inclusion on the first list.

The committee will meet next month to discuss the list, as it was unable to find unanimity on four of the 16 substances. The final list to be published mid-October might therefore include only 12 substances, said Geert Dancet, the executive director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).


Asked whether the list was too short, Geert Dancet, executive director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), said it was "relatively short", but this was because the process is just starting and everybody is struggling to establish and become familiar with new heavy administrative procedures and dealing with scarce resources available for testing chemicals. He also said that working procedures needed streamlining as otherwise new administrative burdens could "overload the system". He did not comment on the SIN list.

All chemicals on the SIN list "are dangerous and deserve to be on the candidate list of REACH," noted a member of the list's advisory committee Daryl W. Ditz, a policy advisor at the Chemicals Program Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in the US.


Chemical activists question EU scientific risk assessments

12 September 2008

A campaign group supported by three chemical manufacturers is questioning whether politicians should ban hazardous substances on the basis of the precautionary principle in the face of scientific assessment that fails to identify any potential risk for humans.

The official launch of the REACHforLIFEexternal campaign on 10 September in Brussels saw two US and an Israeli company attempt to initiate a debate on the role of scientific risk assessments in the EU's chemicals policy.

Presenting their campaign objectives, spokesperson Willem Hofland called for science-based policymaking, asking the EU to respect the assessments of its own scientific committees. Indeed, the three campaigners Albemarle, Chemtura and ICL-IP are using the recent (as of 1 August) EU-wide ban of Deca-BDE, a brominated flame retardant, from electronic appliances as an example of how "decision-makers are putting consumers in danger through bans of safe chemicals".

They believe the ban was introduced despite recommendations to the contrary from the bloc's own scientific committees, and hope debate on the issue will prevent further bans.

Cefic, the main EU chemical industry lobby, told EurActiv that it does not support the campaign because of "the style and tone" adopted by the venture, but recognises that scientific risk assessment as such is an issue.

The launch event on 10 September saw lively discussion in a debate which was moderated by EurActiv. Greens/EFA group political advisor Axel Singhofen hit back at the companies, stating that they "just can't accept" the recent ban and are motivated by a desire to avoid any future bans on the use of Deca-BDE in other goods. He underlined that the ban reflected the opinions of EU scientific committees and was a result of a thorough process involving all EU institutions.

The committees' opinions (see CSTEEPdf external and SCHERPdf external ) indeed revealed a number of uncertainties concerning Deca-BDE's possible health and environmental effects and strongly recommended the introduction of further risk reduction measures for the substance.

Martin van den Berg, professor of toxicology and deputy director of the Institute of Risk Assessment Sciences of the University of Utrecht, argued that discussions on chemical safety are ruled by emotions rather than real risks and that in particular NGOs use the precautionary principle to scare the public and gain new membership. "NGOs don't respect the fact that the dose makes the poison," he said, referring to the fact that even if a substance is proven to be hazardous, it does not necessarily lead to a risk, which depends on the exposure to the substance.

Meanwhile, Singhofen defended the precautionary principle, saying that "in the face of scientific uncertainty" and as long as a substance is not proven safe, "politicians have to take the responsibility" and decide on the authorisation of substances which can end up in breast milk, for example.

As a candidate list of chemicals that present the most cause for concern over public health and the environment is currently being finalised, more chemicals are to be debated under the REACH regulation in the coming months. This will provoke a surge in lobbying activity from both chemical manufacturers and environmental groups.

Chemicals are not the only field where the precautionary principle is under scrutiny. The authorisation of GM products has become a major political battlefield between member states favourable to the technology and those opposing it, bringing the validity of the bloc's own scientific expert opinion into question. source

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