Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Chemical community looks forwards to safety legislation

Ways to overcome the burdens of past chemical accidents and challenges for the future were the focus of debate at an "Environment brainstorming workshop" in Brussels on 24 February 1999, organized by European Commissioners Bjerregaard and Bangemann.

Opening the event, Ritt Bj...
Ways to overcome the burdens of past chemical accidents and challenges for the future were the focus of debate at an "Environment brainstorming workshop" in Brussels on 24 February 1999, organized by European Commissioners Bjerregaard and Bangemann.

Opening the event, Ritt Bjerregaard, European Commissioner responsible for the environment, highlighted public scepticism of the safety of industrial technologies despite the development of new instruments and advances in the field.

Stressing a number of issues, which the Commission believes to be of crucial importance for EU policy in relation to industrial chemicals, she particularly highlighted major concerns relating to a number of chemicals which constitute the burden of the past and for which little data is available.

Commissioner Bjerregaard also pointed out how current legislation makes it difficult to respond quickly to problems related to the production of industrial chemicals. Citing the phenomenon of endocrine disruption and the migration of phthalates in soft PVC toys, she called for delegates to consider how future legislation might take account of similar emerging problems.

These were some of the key themes discussed at the workshop, attended by more than 150 stakeholders, including regulators, scientists, industry, and environmental and consumer non-governmental organisations, as well as representatives from applicant countries.

The workshop formed part of the Commission's strategy to deal with industrial chemicals. A number of issues received special attention in the debate, including the need to:

- Provide appropriate resources for both legislators and regulators (national and EU), in particular the European Chemicals Bureau;
- Reconsider the basis for risk management decisions;
- Reconsider monitoring as an element of control decisions;
- More effective coordination of activities;
- Proper information flow;
- Give full consideration to the precautionary principle in a defined framework;
- Reconsider the burden of proof (in particular in the light of the industry initiative to provide assessments for 1000 chemicals);
- Reconsider a new legislative framework;
- Find a proper balance between a high level of protection of human health and the environment and maintaining a competitive and innovative chemical industry;
- Intensify cooperation between all stakeholders.

The brainstorming session helped to focus the Commission on the best course of action for future strategies. It will draw on points raised during these discussions to ensure that the objectives of environmental and human health protection as well as consumer protection are met.

Commissioner Bjerregaard also emphasised that the Commission will endeavour to improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of European legislation.

"In doing so, we must balance the interests of the protection of the environment and human health, as well as consumer protection with the need for industry to remain competitive," she said.

The Commission intends to prepare a Communication to the Council and the European Parliament on the best course of action for chemicals legislation in the EU. This Communication will be based on a Commission report from November 1998 and comments raised at this workshop.
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