EU waters down chemicals reform

Feature story - 29 October, 2003
Important new laws in Europe have been announced this week to address the current flawed and inadequate rules governing chemicals harmful to health and the environment. While the new laws represent a step forward, heavy chemical industry lobbying and scare-mongering have significantly weakened the proposal already.

Public health and protection of the environment must take priority over chemical pollution.

After five years of discussion and many delays, the European Commission has finally proposed new laws for regulating chemicals safety called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals). When originally proposed the legislation put the protection of human health and the environment above the profits and pollution of the chemicals industry. But industry demands have weakened the regulations almost beyond recognition.

These laws are important because they govern many hazardous chemicals found in everyday products -- chemicals which are in all of our bodies, and which can be detected all over the globe.

Industry lobbying and high profile political support

France, Germany and the UK claimed that the proposed laws would cost jobs in the industry and affect gross domestic product, with companies moving out of Europe. However an independent impact assessment estimated that the changes will cost industry only 0.05 percent of its turnover.

This heavy pressure has lead to loopholes in the current draft laws which will deliver pollution as usual rather than protecting our health. Instead of forcing industry to innovate and find alternatives for dangerous chemicals, it asks them to demonstrate undefined 'adequate control.' What the laws should contain is the principle of 'mandatory substitution,' which would mean companies would have a legal obligation to replace dangerous chemicals with safe ones.

Now the proposed laws will be debated in the European Parliament and by national governments before finally entering into law in the EU sometime in 2005 or early 2006. We, and other environmental, health, and women's groups, will be campaigning to ensure that the current loopholes are closed and the laws meet their original goal of protecting our health and the environment rather than the chemical industry's right to pollute. For this we need your help:

How you can help -

1. Visit our chemical home site to find these chemicals in your home and body. Use your consumer power to vote for green products, and against dangerous chemicals.

Look at our chemical products and don't buy the ones on the red list. Shop wisely by buying the products on the green list instead. This is simple yet very effective: every time you buy a product, you vote for that product. If you know Fairy liquid contains toxic chemicals and Ecover doesn't, you will always choose Ecover. The more people that do this, the more quickly manufacturers will be forced into action.

2: Help us lobby:

An impressive 30,000 people sent messages in on two weeks from website to the Comission on chemicals to counter the industry lobbying. When the laws are debated in the EU Parliment we will need your help again. Also in Deutsch | Español | Français | Italiano | Nederlands


3. Return to sender!

Got any products on our red list? Think you would be better off without them? Send your toxic products, or the empty packaging to Patricia Hewitt, UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. She is determined to wreck new legislation designed to protect human health and the environment from the chemical pollution. She complains that it will be too expensive and if chemical companies are forced to test their products for safety before they sell them they will move abroad. She has not said anything about protection of health and the environment.

Follow these easy steps to return you toxic products:

  • Find toxic products on our 'red' list that you have in your house, such as shampoo or children's toys
  • Print out this letter and sign it, or better still write your own letter.
  • Package up the product or wrapper put it in an envelope or wrap it in (recycled!) paper, along with the letter
  • Print out this address label and stick it to the parcel
  • Put it in the post
4. Spread the word

Tell your friends about the Chemical Home website, so that they can arm themselves with information too.

5. Join Greenpeace


For a general introduction to the problem of hazardous chemicals read our chemicals out of control section.

For a detailed response on the REACH legislation read the media briefing.


'Chemical legacy - contamination of the child'(pdf file).

Human impacts of man-made chemicals(pdf file).

Safer Chemicals Within Reach(pdf file).