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EU Proposes Chemical Safety Testing

October 29, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The European Union’s head office adopted a proposal to overhaul chemical safety regulations Wednesday, including increased testing and registration for thousands of substances used in products such as household cleaners and clothing.

The proposed legislation is expected to face more vigorous lobbying from industry, environmental and consumer groups, all of which want to change the proposal as it heads to the European Parliament and EU governments for review.

The bill’s scope has already been significantly curtailed during its drafting in the past two years.

Still, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom called the proposal ``groundbreaking,″ saying major changes in how the chemicals are regulated was urgently needed.

Existing, 20-year-old rules were ``inefficient, slow and do not give enough protection″ to consumers, she said at a news conference.

``There are growing concerns about chemicals’ impact on human health and the environment,″ Wallstrom said. ``We have increasing levels of chemicals in the environment and in human tissues.″

The proposal shifts responsibility for testing chemicals to manufacturers, instead of governments. It requires registration and safety data for thousands of high-use chemicals.

The plan also would create an agency to manage the database of registered chemicals, to be funded through the registration fees paid by companies.

The most toxic and all carcinogenic chemicals would have to carry the label of ``substances of very high concern″ and would need a special license for use under the legislation.

The proposal has already proven to be one of the most contentious ever tackled by the European Commission.

EU Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, who had fought for less stringent rules to reduce the cost and burden on European industries, said the proposal ``strikes the right balance between maintaining growth and employment in Europe .... and improving health and the environment.″

But environmental groups accused the commission of caving in to the powerful chemical industry.

``It could do a lot more,″ said Tony Long, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s European policy office. ``This law needs to be strengthened, as currently it gives too many concessions to the chemical industry, who have been promoting exaggerated studies of the costs.″

Europe’s chemical industry has warned that the new rules could cost as many as 1.7 million jobs.

Under pressure, Wallstrom recently revised the bill to require only about 10,000 chemicals be registered, instead of the initial 30,000.

It also excludes polymers and eliminates registration requirements for chemicals produced under 11 tons, which make up about two-thirds of all chemicals used.

Those changes should lower the estimated cost of the new regulation to $2.7 billion from $8.2 billion _ easily affordable for a global industry with $1.7 trillion in annual sales, the commission argued.

But the leaders of the three biggest economies _ Britain, France and Germany _ warned the commission last month against placing ``unnecessary burdens on industry.″ EU governments also must approve the proposal, a process that may take another two years.

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