2nd Jul 2022

EU states reject stricter chemical rules in waste, says lead MEP

  • There is a lack of data regarding chemical contamination, despite the general obligation for member states to do proper monitoring (Photo: Henrique Pinto)
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EU member states have rejected MEPs' call for stricter limits for one of the most harmful chemicals in waste, during inter-institutional talks.

"We know we had a problem [with chemical pollution]…but there was no political will to be more ambitious," Slovak liberal MEP Martin Hojsík, one of the lead negotiators on the file, told EUobserver.

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EU countries and MEPs reached a deal late on Monday (20 June) on the proposal that sets limits for harmful chemicals in waste — in a bid to prevent them from being recycled into new materials as part of 'circular economy' efforts.

This includes specific limits for one type of the so-called 'forever chemicals', known as PFOA.

Forever chemicals [technically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)], earned this nickname because they are considered nearly indestructible — becoming a headache for policymakers after public health and environmental concerns were raised.

Hojsík said EU member states were "not flexible at all" when setting PFOA limits during the negotiations, as they argued that there is not enough contamination data to justify stricter limits.

"The situation with PFOA chemicals contamination is higher on the agenda in countries like Belgium or the Netherlands, while in central and eastern Europe nobody knows [about it]," he told EUobserver.

Hojsík said that already the commission impact assessment revealed that there is a general lack of data about the contamination of these chemicals, despite the general obligation for member states to do proper monitoring.

In Belgium, for example, high levels of one of these forever chemicals (PFOS) have been found in the soil and water close to a 3M factory near Antwerp and Zwijndrech.

PFOA are found in waterproof textiles, fire-fighting foams, stain-resistant carpets, or paper and cardboard packaging.

But the EU has pledged to eliminate its production and use under the Stockholm Convention — and has restricted its use in the EU under the so-called Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation.

The maximum limit value for PFOA to be considered hazardous in waste was agreed at one mg/kg and at 40 mg/kg for PFOA-related compounds.

"We are delivering on our promise to eradicate the most harmful chemicals from our daily lives," EU commissioner for environment Virginijus Sinkevičius said in a statement.

He said that "ambitious limits" for these toxic substances are needed to safely use "toxic-free secondary materials" in Europe's circular economy.

The chemical PFHxS — with similar uses of PFOA —, the pesticide dicofol, and the chemical pentachlorophenol which can be found in treated wood and textiles were also added to the EU regulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

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The European Parliament approved last week a non-binding resolution on illegal logging, calling to extend the EU public prosecutor's mandate to also cover environmental crime. The lead MEP on the file has called for urgent implementation.

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