Environment Daily  [Printer-friendly version]
October 19, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Europe's precautionary chemicals policy will
pay for itself by producing substantial health benefits, which
translate into large monetary savings, a study finds.]

Implementing the EU's REACH chemical policy will yield much larger
occupational health benefits than previously thought, scientists
commissioned by Europe's trade union movement have claimed. Even in
the first ten years these benefits alone could exceed the entire cost
of implementation, the scientists say.

The research was unveiled in the European parliament on Monday at a
meeting organised by EU trade union body Etuc and hosted by Guido
Sacconi, the assembly's rapporteur for Reach. Mr Sacconi stressed the
importance of safeguarding workers' health and said it was essential
that Reach was not weakened.

Carried out at the University of Sheffield, the research breaks new
ground by focusing on how far Reach, as proposed by the European
Commission in 2003, will avoid skin and respiratory diseases other
than cancer, including dermatitis and chronic pulmonary obstructive

Previous studies have focused more on cancers, study co-author Simon
Pickvance told Environment Daily. Whereas these tend to emerge over a
long time period, the diseases now looked at appear more quickly, he

In the first ten years of Reach, the study calculates the benefits for
avoidance of these diseases at $.77-$7.3bn, with a midpoint estimate
of around $4.12bn. Over a longer, 30-year period, it puts the benefits
at $24.7-$189.7bn, with a midpoint of around $106bn.

In contrast, the European Commission reckons Reach will cost
$3.3-$6.1bn to implement over 15 years. The main previous estimate of
Reach's health benefits, carried out for the commission by consultancy
RPA, is $31.8bn over 30 years.

The scientists used new methods to calculate the incidence of three
diseases related to workplace exposure to chemicals. They then
estimated the proportion that will be avoided by implementing Reach.
For asthma, for example, they expect Reach to avoid 50% of relevant
cases, or 40,000 per year. Finally, they monetised the benefits of
this avoidance.

The benefits will be felt by very large numbers of workers in many
chemical using sectors, Mr Pickvance told Environment Daily, not just
industrial operations such as car spraying, but also all users of
cleaning products. Many millions of people across Europe are therefore
involved, he said.

It was "impossible" at this stage to say whether amendments
simplifying Reach that look set to be adopted by EU governments and
MEPs would significantly affect the estimates, Mr Pickvance added.

Follow-up: Etuc, tel: +32 2 224 0411, and the study.