Environment loses in latestEU bill on chemicals policy

STRASBOURG (AP) – The European Parliament is expected this week to approve a watered-down, pro-business version of a bill to overhaul the bloc’s chemicals policy. The conservative European People’s Party and the Socialists, the two largest groups in the assembly, agreed on a deal last week reducing the scope and weakening the provisions of the bill, which is to put the burden of proof on businesses to show that around 30,000 commonly used industrial chemicals and substances they put on the market are safe. The European Commission, which drafted the legislation known as REACH – for registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals – wants chemical companies to register the properties of substances in a new central EU database. Companies would have to obtain authorizations to use hazardous chemicals, and some substances would eventually be banned. There are currently around 40 directives governing the sector. Under the compromise deal reached by the two major parliamentary groups and opposed by the Greens, the Communists and environmental groups, a report on the safety of little-used chemicals – those produced or imported in amounts of less than 10 metric tons annually, originally around 20,000 – would only have to be provided if they’re identified as risky. The costs involved in registration would thus be reduced, as manufacturers and users would be able to focus on a manageable number of categories. The direct costs of supplying safety information about a substance range from 20,000 euros ($24,000) to 400,000 euros ($480,000), depending on the volume of data requirements, according to the Parliament. The proposal envisages companies submitting only basic information – such as name, manufacture and safety data – in the first 18 months of registration. This would enable businesses to exchange data, lightening the load for small and medium-sized companies which make up a large portion of the multibillion industry in Europe. The registration process of all existing substances covered by REACH should be completed in 11 years. The first stage of the process aims to register substances which are produced in the largest quantities, i.e. more than 1,000 tons, and the most harmful ones, such as carcinogens, mutagens and toxins affecting reproduction, within three years. After the Nov. 17 vote in Parliament, EU member states will review the amended text. A planned Nov. 28-29 vote on the legislation by the Council of EU Ministers will be put off until a later date after Germany requested a delay. Berlin said it needs more time because it is in the midst of political negotiations on a new federal government coalition. Germany is home to some of the world’s largest chemical companies, such as BASF AG and Bayer AG.

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