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A Step Forward That Falls Short

A Step Forward That Falls Short


Greenpeace demands stricter controls and timelines for elimination of toxics in the EU

Reply to:

Brussels/Strasbourg - 13 February 2001: The Commission's White Paper on chemicals presented today in Strasbourg is a step forward for the EU, but falls short of delivering its intention to make chemical pollution “the burden of the past”, according to Greenpeace.

In particular, the proposed restrictions on chemical use are inadequate and the White Paper does not set a time frame in which to stop the use and releases of hazardous substances into the environment (1). Moreover, the fundamental basis for regulation remains risk assessment, which may allow substances with intrinsically hazardous properties to continue to be used. (2)

“It is positive that the Commission has recognised the importance of protecting human health and the environment from chemical pollution, but the proposed EU strategy is not sufficient to do so and releases of hazardous substances seem set to continue”, said Greenpeace scientist, David Santillo.

The White Paper suggests that the new strategy will "support”' the aims of the OSPAR Convention 1992 which committed to stop all releases of hazardous substances to the marine environment throughout Europe within one generation. The European Commission, along with the 12 Member States which are also Contracting Parties to the OSPAR Convention, signed up to this commitment in 1998.

“The Commission has also clearly missed an opportunity to ensure that the OSPAR generational goal would be fully implemented. Clearly OSPAR will still have a lot of additional work to do,” added Santillo.

Greenpeace welcomes the principle of the 'reversal of the burden of prove' (3) and the concept that any continued applications of substances with hazardous properties should be subject to detailed scrutiny and authorisation. But it considers that authorisations should be granted for a limited period only, should aim to avoid the use of these substances wherever possible, and that all use and releases of hazardous substances should be phased out by 2020 at the latest. Authorisation for specific uses should also require demonstration by industry, to the satisfaction of all Member States, that the uses are essential to society and that less dangerous alternatives are not available. The authorisation system should also prevent the introduction of new hazardous substances.

Greenpeace strongly supports the Commission's commitment to provide the public with information regarding chemicals, but is concerned that the access to technical information in databases suggested in the White Paper will not give consumers the information they need to make informed purchasing choices. As a substantial part of people’s everyday exposure to chemicals is through contact with consumer products, including furniture, textiles and other goods, Greenpeace also considers it essential that the public is informed about these hazardous substances through labelling, including those present as additives in products imported to Europe. Moreover, these should also be included in the strategy for a progressive phase-out.

"Greenpeace welcomes the introduction of the precautionary principle and the 'principle of substitution' in the EU chemical strategy, but the White Paper should go a lot further than it does to be truly precautionary," said Santillo.

Greenpeace strongly advocates, as a minimum, the inclusion of persistent and bioaccumulative as well as toxic substances within the White Paper authorisation scheme, as was recently proposed in the Swedish national chemical policy (4). Moreover, application of the substitution principle should not simply be "encouraged", as stated by the Commission, but should be the cornerstone of the mechanism for the phase-out of the use of undesirable substances and the potential for non-chemical alternatives should be part of that.

“Many of the stated aims of the new strategy are laudable but the strategy itself remains very thin on measures which will really achieve those aims. The Commission, it would seem, is still within the grip of the chemical industry. It remains to be seen whether industry’s commercial interests can truly be tempered by effective measures to rid our environment and lives of hazardous chemicals, ” concluded Santillo.

Notes to Editors:

1) Even for the 5 000 high production volume existing chemicals, lack of basic knowledge may persist until 2005, with evaluation then extending to 2010. For chemicals produced in quantities between 100 and 1000 tonnes per year, evaluation will not be complete until 2012. For the remaining 25 000 substances with production volumes greater than 1 tonne, the registration process will not even be complete until 2012 or even 2018. Action to address those with hazardous properties may only be taken some time after these dates.

* For the remaining 70 000 existing substances, produced in volumes of less than 1 tonne per year per manufacturer, the registration requirements simply will not apply; nothing may ever be publicly known about these substances, though their manufacture and marketing may continue.

* Other than those substances identified as being of very high concern, and therefore subject to the proposed authorisation measures, substances will be subject to lengthy comprehensive risk assessment processes, with the likelihood of the same delays as in the existing approach.

2) Until now, all chemical policies have been based on the principle that releases of hazardous substances into the environment are acceptable as long as they are not proven, on the basis of a risk assessment, to have negative effects on health or the environment. However, subsequent evidence of harmful effects has often appeared, proving that risk assessments can be, in fact, wrong.

3) According to the reversal of the burden of proof, it will be now the producers’ responsibility to prove that their chemical substances are not hazardous, if they want them authorised.

4) The Swedish national chemical policy bill, released on 2nd February 2001, goes much further than the EU proposal as it has broader criteria for listing chemicals for phase out.

For further information please contact: Lorenzo Consoli, media officer, Greenpeace Europe an Unit Mobile 00 32 (0)496 12 21 12 David Santillo, Greenpeace Science Unit, mobile: + 44 7968 844 906.


For information on Greenpeace please visit:

High-bandwidth users can view current and archive streaming Greenpeace videos at:

For more information on this press release please contact: Greenpeace International Press Office T: ++ 31 20 5249515 F: ++ 31 20 5236212


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