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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 17:13 GMT
EU chemicals law sparks job fears
Chemicals
Chemicals will be subject to more stringent testing
EU plans to tightly regulate chemicals found in many household items will put many companies out of business, an industry spokesman has warned.

Under the draft proposals, published last year and about to be debated in Brussels, companies will have to disclose basic data on all the chemicals they produce.

About 30,000 chemicals will undergo tests to prove their safety if the proposals are enforced and the cost for industry could run into billions.

European Chemical Industry spokesman Rene van Sloten said: "Studies in France and Germany suggest in the worst case a million people could lose their jobs as a consequence.

Over-cautionary

"My question is, can Europe, under the present economic climate, afford to lose one single job?"

The new legislation, known as Reach (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) will, according to environmental campaigners, protect us and the environment from hidden danger.

Everyday objects such as computers, fabrics, cleaning products and food containers contain many chemicals, the effects of which are largely unknown.

The Reach process will identify potentially harmful chemicals - like those which cause cancer or damage genetic material - and classify them as "substances of very high concern".

But Mr van Sloten said the EU plans were over-cautionary.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's File On 4 programme, he said: "We will see that many chemicals will disappear from the market that do not pose any health or environmental risk at all.

"They will simply disappear from the market because it's not economically viable to continue their production, and the effects on the economy will be considerable."

European industry would lose out to unregulated competitors in the rest of the world, Mr van Sloten added.

"The small and medium-sized enterprises in Italy or in the UK are competing with China, India and the United States that are not subject to a Reach-type system.

"Here, every Euro cent in the competition can count."

The investment should come from industry to show that they [chemicals] are safe"
Sir Tom Blundell,
Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
Environmentalists say the industry sector is exaggerating the impact the new law would have on it. But Mr van Sloten said there was an overall agreement that the introduction of the Reach proposals would cost Europe between 2bn and 7bn.

Sir Tom Blundell, chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, said there were thousands of untested chemicals in common use posing a serious health risk.

"Chemicals that accumulate in humans become very concentrated. That's a message for us because these compounds can end up in key tissues like breast milk.

"I would ban them until exhaustive studies were done to show they weren't going to cause harm."

He said the chemical industry should take responsibility for the costs involved in testing.

"Governments should use quick tests to identify chemicals that might be of harm - but then the investment should come from industry to show that they are safe."

File on 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 16 November at 2000 GMT and repeated at 1700 GMT on Sunday 20 November.

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