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European Union to Tell Chemical Makers
to Prove Products Are Safe

BBC BELGIUM: February 13, 2001
Story by Robin Pomeroy

- The chemicals industry is bracing itself for tough new
environmental controls European Union lawmakers are set to unveil
on Tuesday that aims to make chemicals companies prove their
products are safe.

Under a plan from the EU's executive arm, the EU Commission,
chemicals producers would have to prove tens of thousands of
products which are already widely used pose no threat to human
health or the environment - or have them banned from the market.

Substances deemed of particular concern, because they cause
cancer or accumulate in organisms, for example, would need
specific authorisation to continue to be used.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom will present
the policy paper - a precursor to EU legislation - at the European
Parliament in Strasbourg, as a key part of the EU's drive for
"sustainable development".

"We will put in place a coherent system for checking chemicals,"
Wallstrom told a news briefing last week.

"We will address the issue of the most hazardous chemicals. But
this is not a total ban on chemicals. This is not a threat to the
very profitable chemicals industry."

But industry has hit out at the proposals, saying the requirement
to gain authorisation for chemicals they have been producing for
years is an extra bureaucratic hurdle which could put the EU's
385 billion euro ($357.5 billion) industry at a competitive

Alain Perroy, director general of the European chemicals industry
association Cefic, said the Commission had not properly defined
what types of chemicals would be subject to authorisation nor how
the system would work.


He also said the cost of testing - although rightly the responsibility
of industry - could force smaller companies to close.

"If a business has to pay hundreds of thousands of euros just to
carry out a series of tests to keep business which has a limited
profit margin, some of them may take the position just to go out
of business," Perroy told Reuters.

The Commission has estimated the cost of testing at 85,000-325,000
euros ($78,920-$301,800) per substance. Cefic believes the true cost
will be two or three times this.

The Commission's paper aims to address the fact that there is no
coherent database on some 30,000 chemicals produced or imported
in high volumes into the EU.

According to a draft version of the paper seen by Reuters,
companies would have to supply detailed information on their
chemicals by a certain deadline. After that cut-off point, the
chemicals would be ineligible for sale in the EU.

For the substances suspected of being particularly harmful, the
data would have to be submitted within five years. Data sets of
the entire list of 30,000 high volume production chemicals would
have to be completed by 2018.

Chemicals producers are used to providing such information
when they want to introduce new substances on to the EU market.

But rules on registering data on chemicals only came into force
in 1981 - all substances already on the market by then have not
been subjected to this methodical scrutiny.

This means 99 percent of the total volume of all substances on
the market have never been subjected to the same tests as new
ones being developed today, the Commission said.

Environmental and consumer groups say this poses unknown risks
for society and nature and have called for many years for more
data on chemicals to be publicly available.