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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 11:51 GMT
EU launches chemicals crackdown
Toxic chemicals sign
Chemicals will be subject to more stringent testing
Chemicals found in many household items will be more tightly regulated, if plans put forward by the European Commission become law.

Under the draft proposals, which were published on Wednesday, companies will have to disclose basic data on all the chemicals they produce.

Around 30,000 chemicals will undergo tests to prove their safety if the proposals are enforced in 2005.

But some campaigners say the regulations do not go far enough.

Harmful substances

The new legislation, known as Reach (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals), has been hailed the most important regulation in 20 years.

It will totally change the way chemicals are controlled.

For the first time chemical companies will have to subject each substance to official screening before it can be licensed for use.

At the moment only 10% of chemicals on the market have undergone such stringent tests, and there is concern that ordinary houshold products may contain harmful substances.

According to Labour Euro-MP David Bowe, everyday objects such as computers, fabrics, cleaning products and food containers may "contain cocktails of chemicals, the effects of which are largely unknown."

He added: "The cutting edge of laboratory tests of forty years ago now seem hopelessly out of date."

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".

One of the goals of Reach is to ensure such chemicals are phased out and replaced with safer alternatives.

Glaring loophole

Some pressure groups feel the legislation is an important move but the regulations are not nearly tight enough.

After a substance of very high concern has been identified it will not automatically be banned.

Instead the company producing it will have to demonstrate "adequate control" over its circulation.

According to Greenpeace that represents a glaring loophole.

Greenpeace's toxics campaigner, Oliver Knowles, said: "Our concern is that it will be business as usual and companies will just carry on producing dangerous chemicals.

"This is because the proposals do not define what they mean by 'adequate' controls."

Greenpeace says intense pressure from industry has taken its toll and Wednesday's draft could be weaker as a result.

Our concern is that it will be business as usual and companies will just carry on producing dangerous chemicals
Oliver Knowles, toxics campaigner at Greenpeace
Mr Knowles said: "We are disappointed at the way Reach looks at the moment but we will keep on campaigning."

One measure pressure groups want to see in place is "mandatory substitution", which would mean companies had a legal obligation to replace dangerous chemicals with safe ones.

But manufacturers say these measures could lop whole percentage points off countries economic output and make millions jobless as companies quit the EU for more business friendly climes.

Animal welfare

The RSPCA fears Reach would cause animal testing to skyrocket.

RSPCA senior scientific officer, Barry Phillips, said: "We are concerned that not enough has been done to avoid the suffering of millions of animals.

"We are extremely disappointed that the proposals simply prescribe the continued use of traditional methods of assessing safety.

"Although the proposals encourage the use of sources other than animal tests, they also include specific requirements for animal tests.

"A more thoughtful approach is required, avoiding animal tests that may not be useful. Animals must not suffer and die just so a form can be filled in."

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"The European Commission is planning to test up to 10,000 chemicals"

Household chemicals warning
01 Aug 02  |  Health

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