Rachel's Precaution Reporter #59
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From: EurActiv ............................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 11, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Latest news on REACH: The phase out of toxic chemicals as supported in the [European] Parliament's Environment Committee is causing anxiety among business organisations but has been welcomed by health organisations, environmental groups and trade unions.]


Chemicals Policy review (REACH)

Parties unite on EU chemicals safety law (REACH)


The draft REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) proposes that manufacturers and importers of chemicals produce health and safety tests for around 30,000 chemical substances currently on the EU market over an 11-year period.

The bill is now entering a crucial second-reading phase in the European Parliament with a final endorsement by EU ministers likely before the end of the year.


The Parliament's chief negotiator on REACH, the Italian socialist Guido Sacconi MEP, received a massive show of support in the Parliament's Environment Committee on 10 October, winning 42 votes out of 63.

Here are the main elements agreed by the Committee:

** Mandatory substitution of the most toxic substances whenever this is economically and socially acceptable;

** a review of authorisations granted to these chemicals every five years in order that they are eventually replaced;

** a 'Duty of care' principle to ensure that producers and importers of chemicals take responsibility for the safety of their products when the risks can be "reasonably foreseen";

** the introduction of a European 'REACH quality label', to be proposed by the Commission after REACH is approved, so that products complying with the EU law can be easily identified by consumers;

** the promotion of alternatives to animal testing, and;

** support measures for small businesses.


The European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) said that the substitution of toxic chemicals as voted by the Committee would "lead to the banning of certain substances even though there are clear socio-economic benefits and no alternative is available".

"This situation could encourage a lot of producers to move out of Europe," CEFIC warned.

However, it also believes it is now "time that the regulation finally gets adopted", and joined the socialists' calls for the Council and Parliament to "avoid conciliation".

For CEFIC, the key could reside in clarifying certain definitions, as was already suggested by Guido Sacconi an interview with EurActiv earlier this month.

"Providing a clearer understanding of the concept of 'adequate control' [of dangerous substances] and a definition of 'safe alternatives' [to them], could pave the way for a final solution that would be workable and improve the protection of health and the environment," CEFIC said.

UNICE, the European employers' union, said that it was "disappointed" that the Committee disregarded the Council's views on substitution which are "based on the concept of adequate control of risk".

It also called on EU lawmakers to sit down at the negotiating table. "The European Parliament, Council and Commission must continue their efforts to achieve a cost-effective and workable REACH before the plenary," said UNICE President Ernest-Antoine Seilliere.

Unilever, the Dutch company with well-known brands in the detergents, soap and food sector, welcomed the vote, saying REACH "constitutes a unique opportunity to simplify existing chemical legislation while enhancing consumer confidence in chemicals".

Unilever now urges EU lawmakers in the Parliament and Council to move on and "find consensus" on a final version of REACH "that truly serves the interests of European Consumers".

UEAPME, the European small-businesses association -- which represents both small chemical producers and downstream manufacturers who use chemicals in their products -- was only partially encouraged by the vote.

"According to UEAPME, the Environment Committee showed consideration for European SMEs by clarifying clauses on cost sharing and approving proposals facilitating the implementation of REACH by small businesses. Furthermore, MEPs appropriately shunned dangerous plans to extend the deadline for data liberalisation from ten to fifteen years".

But it added that the Committee "overlooked a crucial issue for SMEs by rejecting calls for an independent evaluation of the opt-outs" from the OSOR system (One Substance One Registration) which forces companies to share registration fees when filing an application for a similar substance.

"UEAPME regretted that the European Chemicals Agency will ultimately not be responsible for assessing exceptions" to the OSOR system.

On the other hand, small businesses "greeted with satisfaction" the "clarifications" brought to the way registration fees are to be shared under OSOR. Following the Committee's vote, the higher the production or import volume of a chemical, the higher the share.

"Today's vote on REACH entails some positive elements for European small businesses, albeit not quite to the extent we hoped it would," said Guido Lena, UEAPME director for environmental policy. In particular, UEAPME said that: "Burdensome procedures on substances produced in smaller quantities will nullify their benefits and put a further strain on SMEs working with chemicals in Europe."

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said it supported the Committee's vote, saying the substitution principle is "wholly in line with European Carcinogens Directive 2004/37/EC which requires employers to replace these dangerous substances where a safer alternative is available".

Environmental groups WWF and Greenpeace -- together with women's, health and consumer organisations, welcomed the vote was "a vital step towards protecting health and the environment from chemical contamination".

For them, the vote "sends a strong message back to the [EU Council of Ministers] that MEPs remain determined that chemicals of very high concern should be replaced with safer alternatives whenever possible". They said a legal obligation to do so would only "drive innovation" in safer chemicals, not hamper industrial activity.

WWF also welcomed the inclusion of a "duty of care" principle to make chemical producers responsible for the safety of their products, as well as the Committee's backing for more information for consumers about chemicals in everyday products.

Latest & next steps:

14 November 2006: Expected vote in Parliament plenary.

4 December 2006: Probable vote in Council (Competitiveness) and final approval of REACH.

If the Parliament and Council fail to agree, a special Conciliation Committee will be convened to iron out remaining differences.


EU official documents

[European] Parliament (Press release): REACH: firm stand by Environment Committee at second reading (10 Oct. 2006)

[European] Parliament: Report: REACH recommendation for second reading, Guido Sacconi MEP [Member of the European Parliament](23 June 2006)

EU Actors positions

European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): Environment Committee Vote in 2nd reading hampers ability of REACH to achieve its goals (10 Oct. 2006)

UNICE: REACH vote in the Environment Committee: Authorisation and substitution create serious problems for industry (10 Oct. 2006)

UEAPME: REACH: EP Environment Committee vote delivers mixed results for SMEs (10 Oct. 2006)

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC): REACH: ETUC calls on Council to go with Parliament on substitution principle (10 Oct. 2006)

WWF / Euro Coop / EEB / Greenpeace et al.: REACH -- European Parliament committee backs safer chemicals rules (10 Oct. 2006)

Related Documents

Parties unite on EU chemicals safety law (REACH) (10 October 2006)

Business gearing up for new EU chemicals policy (06 October 2006)

Chemicals: Does the consumer know? (06 October 2006)

UK Tory leader switches to REACH (05 October 2006)

Chemical imbalance? SMEs still worried about REACH (05 October 2006)

Copyright EurActiv 2000-2005


From: International Herald Tribune .......................[This story printer-friendly]
October 11, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The REACH legislation has become the most dramatic example of Europe's "precautionary principle" of regulation. In contrast to the U.S. approach, it requires businesses to show that the substances they put on the market are safe, rather than requiring regulators to prove why they should be banned.]

By Dan Bilefsky, International Herald Tribune

The European Parliament's powerful environmental committee approved tough new rules Tuesday regulating the bloc's €400 billion chemical industry, presaging a tense showdown between the European Union and the world's biggest chemical companies, which argue that the regulations risk damaging business and hurting global trade.

At issue is EU legislation, known as Reach, for the registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals, which would shift the burden of proof from regulators to businesses when it comes to the safety of up to 30,000 commonly used industrial chemicals.

The legislation has become the most dramatic example of Europe's "precautionary principle" of regulation. In contrast to the U.S. approach, it requires businesses to show that the substances they put on the market are safe, rather than requiring regulators to prove why they should be banned.

The U.S. government initially feared that $150 billion of its exports could be affected. The U.S. chemical industry has estimated that the proposal could cost U.S. companies alone some $8 billion during the next decade. But EU lawmakers counter that all chemical companies will need to either conform to the EU's more stringent standards, or risk missing out on a European market of 470 million consumers, which is now larger than the United States.

Products ranging from certain plastics to some materials used by pharmaceutical companies could be affected, as well as industrial solvents like ethyl benzene and heavy metals like cadmium used in some paints. A number of low-risk substances like the polymers used in food packaging and shopping bags are likely to be totally or partly exempted from registration requirements.

The legislation has caused such concern in the United States that, in April 2004, the secretary of state then, Colin Powell, sent out a seven-page cable to U.S. embassies in all of the EU's 25 member states questioning the legislation's overly cautious approach and warning that it "could present obstacles to trade and innovation." Some European governments, including Germany, Britain and France, have also expressed fears that it could dampen the bloc's competitiveness.

Some nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace charge that German industry, led by the chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer, used its sway to try and water down the legislation that was first discussed by ministers in 1998. Margot Wallstrom, deputy president of the European Commission and the former environment commissioner, described the lobbying as the most intense that she had experienced.

In the draft rules adopted by the Parliament's environmental committee, which still must be approved by the Parliament as a whole and by EU member governments, EU lawmakers have backed regulations forcing chemical companies to substitute dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives if such alternatives exist. The rules are designed to protect consumers from the potentially hazardous effects of chemicals found in everyday products.

Guido Sacconi, an Italian lawmaker from the Socialist Group who is steering the package through Parliament, said, for example, that toxic chemicals found used in a ballpoint pen would potentially need to be substituted if a safer alternative were available, even if the pen had been on the market for years and the substitute was more expensive to produce.

"There are possibly toxic substances in this pen," he said, waiving his pen in the air at a press conference. "If a safer alternative is available, then it should be substituted." He added that the additional cost to the chemical industry of using a safer and more expensive substance would be more than offset by the alternative of being forced to close factories producing a chemical deemed to be unsafe. He noted, however, that a hazardous substance could be allowed if the benefits outweighed the risks.

But industry fears that the strict criteria and inherent cautiousness of EU regulators could lead to the banning even of substances that have clear benefits for public health. The registration process could prove onerous, they charge, and could compromise trade secrets.

Franco Bisegna, head of government affairs at the European Chemical Industry Council, said the substitution rule was an unfair burden on business. Citing a hypothetical example, he said that if a flame retardant used in the upholstery of an airplane passenger seat was deemed to be risky by the EU, a company could be forced to stop using it or to substitute it, at potentially enormous cost.

"What if the flame retardant was banned and there was no substitute?" he said. "It's better to have an airline seat with antiflame retardant than one that would be vulnerable in case of fire -- we need to look at the social benefits as well as the risks." The chemicals industry is also concerned about proposals by the Parliament forcing chemical companies to review permits for the most hazardous substances every five years. Under the rules, manufacturers would also have to register the properties of chemicals in an EU database.

But EU lawmakers counter that the tougher standards will prevent as many as 4,500 deaths a year. They say that the safety benefits for consumers more than outweigh the added costs to business. EU regulators said the tougher standards would cost as much as €5.2 billion, or $6.5 billion, to producers and users over 15 years, when they introduced the legislation in 2003.

Bisegna said that the regulations would affect all multinational chemical companies doing business in Europe and that U.S. fears about the legislation were exaggerated.

"If Reach is supposedly going to make European chemical producers less competitive, then shouldn't the U.S. be happy?" he asked. "If industry can't solve its competitiveness problems, I don't think it will be Reach that will have given it its kiss of death."

Reach would require the chemicals industry to test the safety of the 30,000 or so chemicals that have been on the market across the world without any significant testing of their toxicity on human health and the environment. These substances would require registration with an EU agency.

Only about a third of 140 potentially high-risk substances on the market before 1981 underwent full assessments, according to the commission.

The European Parliament is planning a final vote on the directive in November or December; if approved, the directive then must be cleared by EU member governments. That still leaves time for the lobbying process to continue.

Copyright 2006 the International Herald Tribune


From: ENDS Europe DAILY ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
October 10, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Jubilant environmentalists hailed the committee vote on REACH as a "vital step towards protecting health and environment from chemical contamination." The chemical manufacturing sector will be wincing but consumer product maker Unilever, a big downstream user of chemicals, welcomed the vote.]

The European parliament's environment committee has adopted a string of strongly pro-environment changes to EU governments' first-reading position on the Reach chemical policy reform. The move is likely to force significant concessions from governments as the Reach negotiations enter their final stages.

Voting at its second reading of the law on Tuesday morning, the committee repeated the parliament's earlier insistence on stronger rules for replacing dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives. But it went further by reversing the parliament's acceptance of several concessions to industry that were adopted by the council of ministers (see sidebar, below).

Italian socialist rapporteur MEP Guido Sacconi, who saw the committee back almost all of his proposals, called the move a "politically respectable decision". The package of changes was backed by 42 votes to 12, with six abstentions. But his counterpart from the centre- right EPP party, Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, complained that the committee's version of Reach would be "almost impossible to put into practice".

The vote will trigger talks between the parliament and council of ministers as they seek to avoid entering the conciliation procedure, a politically-hazardous process of last-minute horse-trading that would delay adoption of Reach. Diplomats meet on Thursday and Friday to discuss the outcome of the vote.

Had the committee's support for changes to the ministerial position been weaker, governments might have been tempted to gamble that the parliament's plenary assembly, which tends to take a more conservative line on environment policy, would reject them. This would have allowed the ministerial position to enter force largely intact.

But the scale of changes suggested by the committee is such that governments are likely to seek a deal that could be endorsed by both the plenary session and by ministers. Mr Sacconi predicted that the chances of avoiding conciliation were now 70 per cent. Other parliamentary sources said the council would be almost certain to compromise.

The talks will focus on Reach's authorisation provisions. The rapporteur gave a hint of his bottom line in the talks: as a minimum there should be an assessment of alternatives for all substances of high concern, and authorisations should not be granted if they are found to be available, he said.

Jubilant environmentalists hailed the committee vote as a "vital step towards protecting health and environment from chemical contamination." The chemical manufacturing sector will be wincing but consumer product maker Unilever, a big downstream user of chemicals, welcomed the vote. Organisations representing small and medium-sized business said the result contained both positives and negatives.

Follow-up: European parliament environment committee

See also Green NGOs press release, plus releases from the Socialists, the EPP [European People's Party], the Liberals, and the Greens.


Sidebar: Committee's second-reading Reach vote in detail

At their second reading of the EU's Reach regulation in Brussels on Tuesday MEPs [members of the European Parliament] on the environment committee challenged governments by adopting a position significantly greener than the one adopted by the parliament's plenary session last year. In the words of one parliamentary source favouring an environmentally robust Reach: "they kept all the good bits and threw out all the bad bits".


Reach's scope would be expanded by including polymers under the regulation within at the latest six years.


The committee's preferred version of this stage of Reach would place significantly more responsibilities on firms: chemical safety reports would be required for substances produced between 1 and 10 tonnes. More basic data would also be required for these. More downstream uses would have to be reported and there would be earlier registration of some substances in the range up to 100 tonnes.


The key difference of opinion with ministers from first reading remains: MEPs want mandatory substitution of VHCs [very high concern chemicals] where alternatives exist. Dangerous chemicals would only be authorised for use if there were no alternative, if the socioeconomic benefits outweighed the risks and if the risk could be adequately controlled. The council of ministers, meanwhile, says some dangerous substances should continue to be used if their risks can be controlled, irrespective of whether alternatives exist.

In addition the parliament said authorisations should be limited to five years, that they should always be accompanied by a substitution plan, and that all dangerous substances should appear on a candidate list of substances for authorisation. The parliament would be able to veto European commission decisions on authorisations. Nanoparticles would be covered by authorisation, but ores and concentrates would be exempt. There would be earlier restrictions on substances of very high concern (VHCs) contained in imported consumer articles.


There would be a general and legally binding duty of care on manufacturers to make, handle and use their products in ways that do not harm health or the environment.


The promotion of non-animal testing would be included as an overall objective of Reach. There would be automatic replacement of animal tests as soon as alternatives were available.



From: Toronto Globe and Mail .............................[This story printer-friendly]
October 10, 2006


Massive gravel pit will ruin way of life on bucolic coastline, opponents fear

[Rachel's introduction: Mr. Mullin believes that if the governments adhere to a precautionary principle, the quarry will not go ahead. "The rational person in me says it can't go forward based on what we don't know the blasting will do to the lobsters, the marine mammals," he said.]

By Shawna Richer

SANDY COVE, N.S. -- The sign at the foot of Rick and Jill Klein's driveway advertising waterfront property for sale was pitched reluctantly this summer.

Natives of Washington, the recently retired couple paid $149,000 four years ago for the 4.5-acre property on Digby Neck with sweeping views of St. Mary's Bay.

The tidy, century-old farmhouse is their summer retirement home. They winter in Melbourne Beach, Fla., but have fallen in love with Nova Scotia's rugged, bucolic peninsula.

But since arriving, the Kleins, along with hundreds of other Digby Neck residents, have found themselves with an unexpected May-October hobby: fighting a large gravel quarry proposed for nearby White's Cove.

The quarry, owned by Bilcon of Nova Scotia and controlled by the Clayton Group, a U.S. conglomerate that includes concrete manufacturers, will devour 155 hectares of spectacular coastline forest.

Coveted basalt gravel, the result of an ancient lava flow and perfect for asphalt, will be mined and shipped to the United States by freighter from a marine terminal that is also planned. Bilcon will blast, grind and ship about two million tonnes of crushed rock from the site each year.

"An industrial site of that size does not fit on Digby Neck," Mr. Klein said, showing the breathtaking view from his backyard.

"To have this thing going down here... it will compromise fishermen's jobs and people's health, ecotourism, the environment and a community's quality of life.

"It's so quiet here now I can hear a hummingbird coming up from the beach before it crests the hill. That's what put us here. When that quarry comes, blasting 50,000 pounds of explosives once a week, there will be sounds here you'll never hear again."

In a province bursting with postcard-perfect places, this peninsula is one of the prettiest.

Just five kilometres wide and 40 kilometres long, the Neck, dotted with fishing villages and tourist stops, stretches along the southwest corner of the province.

The gentle clam beds of St. Mary's Bay are on one side; rare right whales and the eye-popping tides of the Bay of Fundy on the other. This place is home to some of the best whale watching in North America and is part of the most productive lobster fishery in the world.

Nearly 30 per cent of the lobster sold in North America comes from here.

When the project was proposed in 2002, a petition with more than 700 names quickly followed, as did the formation of a coalition to stop the quarry.

"The threat to the lobster fishery is serious," said Don Mullin, vice- chairman of the opposing group.

"We do not paint ourselves as a bunch of granola-eating tree huggers who don't want development. But the size of the project is completely inappropriate for the area. To have it pushed onto a fragile ecosystem, the culmination of risks is enormous."

Kemp Stanton's family has been fishing off White's Cove for 150 years. He is certain the quarry, once operating, will displace the 33 boats that work the area.

"It's rather insulting," he said, "to find out you're insignificant. That's what we take from this plan. This is the last chance for people like us to prove we can win this. If we can't win this, we can't win anything; it's that sensible that this shouldn't be here."

The project is under a panel review; Bilcon has until Nov. 15 to answer public comments on the environmental-impact statement. Public hearings will follow next year and the company hopes for a green light from federal and provincial Environment departments.

Project manager Paul Buxton said the company has complied with all environmental guidelines, presenting nearly 20 consultants who said the project will do no environmental harm and will benefit the local economy by creating jobs. Mr. Buxton said that if all goes well, Bilcon will break ground later in 2007.

"I'm absolutely convinced this quarry can be done in an environmentally sound manner," he said.

"As far as tourism is concerned, you wouldn't even know it's there from [the highway]. We do not believe there will be any significant, adverse environmental affects.

"The opposition is coming from a relatively small group. They've done a very good job of being heard but that doesn't mean there is unanimous opposition to the quarry; very far from it," Mr. Buxton added.

He said 21 people from nearby Little River attended a recent meeting Bilcon held to talk about jobs at the quarry.

On the weekend, the Kleins headed south for the winter, uncertain of whether they would be back for the long term.

Even Mr. Mullin is considering returning to his native New Brunswick if the quarry comes. But he believes that if the governments adhere to a precautionary principle, the quarry will not go ahead.

"The rational person in me says it can't go forward based on what we don't know the blasting will do to the lobsters, the marine mammals," he said.

"Look, we don't want to protect this place to freeze it in time. We want to protect it because it's precious and fragile. The community has made it very clear it doesn't want the quarry. Would there be civil unrest if it goes ahead? I think there would be. That's not a threat. But this is our way of life, our sense of place about to be compromised."


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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