EC 'caved in to chemicals lobby'

Environmentalists have accused the European Commission of giving in to corporate and government lobbying from Britain and elsewhere after it emerged that European Union legislation on the safety of industrial chemicals has been watered down.

The legislation — which has already incurred the wrath of the British government and chemicals industry — is aimed at instigating a mandatory testing programme that would see thousands of chemicals found in everyday products tested to ensure they are safe for human health and the environment.

The cost of testing would be borne by the industry, which has claimed the law is unworkable and could result in up to two million European job losses.

However, draft copies of the legislation circulating in Brussels reveal the commission has watered down the law to appease the chemicals industry following a consultation period that saw both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Patricia Hewitt, the UK Trade and Industry Secretary, lobby on its behalf. Although details remain sketchy, it is apparent the commission has radically reduced the number of chemicals that will need to be tested and has weakened the onus on the industry to prove its chemicals are safe.

Green groups, which have been lobbying Brussels to put health and the environment before industry concerns, said they were appalled. “It is clear that this proposal has been severely weakened by industry lobbying,’’ said the WWF’s Michael Warhurst.

“In spite of many demands for the legislation to push industry to use the safest chemicals, the draft fails to do this.
A loophole remains — companies can still get away with using the worst chemicals if they claim they are doing it under ‘adequate control’, even if safer alternatives are readily available.’‘

The WWF said the commission seemed to be losing sight of the law’s objective — protecting the public. Many of the chemicals being discussed are suspected of causing birth defects, allergies and learning problems.

The commission is due to adopt its definitive proposal on October 29. — Â

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