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EU Lawmakers Uphold Environmentalist Approach On Chemicals

Europe's chemicals industry accounts for 28 percent of world-wide production and is said to be worth at least 400 billion euros (500 billion dollars) in annual sales. It employs 1.3 million people through 27,000 companies.
by Fabrice Randoux
Brussels (AFP) Oct 10, 2006
After three years of heated debate, the European Parliament began Tuesday the final phase of approving controversial new rules on the use of chemicals to better protect people and the environment. The parliament's environment committee voted to stand by a more ecologically friendly version of the regulations by insisting that industry endeavour to phase out the most dangerous chemicals.

The so-called REACH regulation (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) will oblige companies to register all chemicals they use and provide information about them as well as any potential hazards.

A draft version was approved by European Union governments in December, with the hope that the measures could enter into force next year, but it was condemned by ecolgosists and health campaigners.

Industry lobby groups have also worked tirelessly to influence the text.

The committee backed a "substitution principle" that only allows harzardous products under three conditions: there must be no safer alternative, the benefits must outweigh the risks and the risks must be "adequately controlled".

After the vote -- passed by 42 for, 12 against and six abstentions -- the assembly's rapporteur, Italian MEP Guido Sacconi, said that the EU government's position was not "diametrically opposed" to that of parliament.

"There is about a 70-percent chance" of an agreement, he told reporters.

The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) accused the committee of turning the clock back on what had been agreed to by the EU's 26 member states.

Cefic director Alain Perroy said the vote "will hamper the ability of REACH to achive its goals to drive both greater safety of products and competitiveness of the European industry."

The industry lobby said the strict criteria for substitution would lead to the banning of certain substances even if there are clear socio-economic benefits in having them and no alternative is available.

"For industry it is time that the REACH regulation gets finally adopted, ending a long period of uncertainty, as we need to start the implementation phase," added Cefic president Francois Cornelis.

Europe's chemicals industry accounts for 28 percent of world-wide production and is said to be worth at least 400 billion euros (500 billion dollars) in annual sales. It employs 1.3 million people through 27,000 companies.

REACH would see the regulation of more than 30,000 substances at the European Chemical Agency within 11 years. The European Commission, the EU's executive body, estimates that around 1,500 of them could be dangerous.

Environmental, woman's and consumer groups said the vote, and in particular the "substitution principle", was a vital step toward protecting health and the environment from chemical contamination.

"This legal obligation is essential to drive innovation of safer chemicals, in order to end the build-up of harmful substances in our bodies and the environment," said a joint statement.

It was also welcomed by the European Trade Union Confederation, which urged EU countries to follow the line taken by the environment committee.

earlier related report
EU and Russia sign environment agreement
Helsinki (AFP) Oct 10 - The European Union and Russia signed an environmental cooperation agreement in Helsinki on Monday, resolving to protect the Baltic Sea and forests and to fight against climate change.

The text was signed at the first meeting of the permanent council of EU-Russian partnership on the environment, by Jan-Erik Enestam, environment minister of Finland which currently holds the EU presidency, European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas and Russian Minister for Natural Resources Yury Trutnev.

Combatting Baltic Sea pollution, protecting forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are some of the priorities of the EU-Russian dialogue on the environment. Trunov welcomed the accord, saying that Russia "would not cease to improve it's requirements and standards for protecting the environment".

"This is an emmense country, blessed with significant natural resources, but also with an imposing industrial sector dating from the Soviet era," he added.

"It's a vital step forward," Enestam said at a press conference at the signing ceremony, recognising that "cooperation between the EU and Russia on environmental protection has so far not been very systematic".

"I am convinced that the ongoing international environmental impact assessment process will benefit all the various parties involvewd in the project by producing information that will be of use to decision-makers, researchers and the citizens of the coastal states around the Baltic Sea."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Ottawa (AFP) Oct 10, 2006
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday his government would unveil a tough law next week to curb air pollution and greenhouse gases that cause global warming, but only in the long term. "Canada's clean air act will allow us to move industry from voluntary compliance to strict regulation. It will replace the current ad hoc patchwork system with clear, consistent and comprehensive national standards," Harper told reporters.

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