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19th Sep 2020

Opinion

Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy

  • The revelations point to a willingness to abandon high-level commitments taken by the previous and current EU Commission on crucial chemicals dossiers (Photo: Pixabay)

Recent revelations on major disagreements within the European Commission about the development of the European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability suggest that representatives of the Department General for Internal Market (DG GROW) seek to fundamentally tone down the proposals, under the pretence of economic interests and overruling preventive actions on chemicals and public health.

With this agenda, a major contradiction with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's ambition to "put forward a cross-cutting strategy to protect citizens' health from environmental degradation and pollution, addressing air and water quality, hazardous chemicals, industrial emissions, pesticides and endocrine disrupters" is becoming apparent.

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  • Recent revelations on major disagreements within the European Commission suggest representatives of the Department General for Internal Market seek to fundamentally tone down the proposals (Photo: Wikimedia)

The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability is one of the main pillars of the European Green Deal striving for "a zero-pollution ambition for a non-toxic environment", with the commission's Department General for Environment (DG ENVI) in the lead.

As is normally the case, other Commission departments are currently being consulted before European Commissioners formally adopt and publish the strategy – which is expected in September.

What the revelations also point to is a willingness to abandon high-level commitments taken by the previous and current Commission on crucial chemicals dossiers as well as with mandates that have been provided both by Member States (through the Environment Council conclusions and joint member states initiatives) and the European Parliament (through its recent resolution on the strategy) to upgrade European regulations for more health protection and to drive a toxic-free circular economy based on safe innovations.

Worrying examples

A tendency from parts of the European Commission towards minimising existing scientific evidence about health and environment effects of a significant number of chemicals currently on the European market – which are acknowledged by several high-level scientific reports as well as European agencies and Europe's official statistics.

Undermining of the concept of a "toxic-free hierarchy" through a "smart regulation" approach.

While legislation based on the former would allow acting on scientific evidence in a way that focuses on preventing toxic chemicals in products at the design stage, a so-called "smart regulation" approach is geared towards reducing administrative burdens for companies.

Watering down of the proposal to address several groups of chemicals of high concern, despite existing commitments and requests for action coming from the council and the parliament.

This is the case for the proposed six-point action plan to phase out non-essential uses of the extremely persistent chemicals (PFAS, a group of some 4,700 substances) as well as for proposals to develop a horizontal identification approach for endocrine disruptors and to truly minimise the exposure of humans and the environment to these harmful substances.

When considering that the current EDC strategy dates back 1999, that only 17 EDCs have been identified under EU laws while people are exposed daily to thousands of potential individual and mixtures of EDCs, such attempt to further slow down much needed action is unacceptable.

It is of utmost concern to the environmental health community that forces within the EU Commission are actively trying to push back against a European Green Deal that is supposed to put people's health at its core.

For the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability to be a game-changer towards a toxic-free, circular, and innovative economy, president von der Leyen and vice-president Frans Timmermans have to guarantee that their commitments towards the zero pollution ambition and improved health will be delivered.

Author bio

Natacha Cingotti is senior policy officer at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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