Half protected from toxic chemicals

Feature story - 17 November, 2005
European politicians have voted on a landmark law to better regulate toxic chemicals. There was good news that the law will force the replacement of toxic chemicals with safer alternatives but pressure from polluting industry ensured many thousands of chemicals will not be tested.

Monica Gibbs lives next to a chemical plant and has suffered from respiratory problems since birth. Politicians should put people's health before chemical industry profits.

The vote is the latest round in the progress of the new Europeanlegislation called REACH which was originally intended to replacecurrent ineffective laws that are failing to protect us from toxicpollution. But almost from the moment it was suggested it has beenunder fire from vested interests who profit from pollution.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) resisted industry pressurewhen they supported replacing hazardous chemicals with saferalternatives. In the past month concerned citizens have sent almost15,000 emails and photos to MEPs demanding protection from chemicalpollution. But industry lobbying succeeded in convincing MEPs toexempt thousands of chemicals from the need to provide any health andsafety information.

Currently about 90 percent of the thousands of chemicals in daily usehave no or insufficient health and safety data. If the law fails torequire basic safety information about chemicals it will make itimpossible to systematically identify and replace the most hazardoussubstances which is the one of the principle aims of REACH.

Round one

The road from proposal to law for any European legislation is long andwinding and REACH has taken longer than most and still has a few roundsleft to go. Intense industry lobbying has helped delay and weaken theproposal and it will next be discussed by national governments.Hopefully national governments will stand up for their people andstrengthen the proposal rather than weaken it further in favour ofpolluting industry pressure.

We'll be campaigning hard to pressure the national governments to takedecisive action on toxic pollution and not cave into pressure comingfrom the German government that is trying to wreak the proposal tofavour its large chemical industry lobby. Recently we have behighlighting the top Brussels politicians who are doing the bidding ofpolluting chemical industry.

Rest of the world?

While the intricacies of European law makingcan seem somewhat mundane and remote, this proposed law has farreaching consequences. As the world's largest market for chemicals newlaw in Europe will set a global standard for the regulation ofchemicals. The chemical industry knows that this could cut theirpolluting practices and have spent millions lobbying against it.

This is a unique opportunity toprotect us and the environment and it should not be sacrificed for theshort-sighted interests of the large chemicals producers.

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