Protecting us from the worst chemicals? Delay and indecision from the Prodi Commission

Issued by Greenpeace, EEB, WWF and FoE

Press release - 7 May, 2003
Today, the Prodi Commission failed to endorse the principles for a new EU chemicals policy that had been presented by Commissioners Wallström and Liikanen. Environmental NGOs blame the Commission President for failing to take leadership for what is called "one of the biggest reforms" of this Commission. At stake is the protection of human health and the environment in Europe, where over 100,000 chemicals are currently marketed and used without adequate environmental and health assessment. The Commission is failing to act on hazardous chemicals, despite ample evidence of widespread accumulation of chemicals in our body and environment.

In addition, the Commission has accepted a number of conditions set by industry associations, which result in further, unnecessary delays as well as weakening of the public health and environmental objectives of the reform. The prolonging of an internet consultation on the draft regulation to a period from 5 to 8 weeks, while minor on the surface, threatens to derail the entire progress of the legislation and prohibit the Commission from publishing its proposal before summer. In consequence the European Parliament will not be able to hold a first reading, nor the Council be able to issue a common position before EU enlargement. One year at least will be lost and political momentum put in jeopardy!

Environmental NGOs had great hopes for the reform outlined in the Commission White Paper from February 2001, which was strongly supported by Parliament and Council. The White Paper proposed to oblige industry to provide safety data on the chemicals sold, and included a new authorisation system for phasing out the use of the worst 1500 chemicals. However; it is now clear that Commissioner Wallström and Liikanen backed down on crucial components of the reform, failing to include an obligation on industry to stop using the worst chemicals when safer alternatives are available, abandoning the principle of public right to know, and failing to provide proper protection from chemicals in imported products. This cut-down system would not encourage the chemicals industry to become sustainable. Both Commissioners must go back to the drafting table and fix these problems in the coming weeks.

Stefan Scheuer from EEB said today: "Prodi's lack of leadership on this issue is causing further delay - a delay which, according to the Commission's own figures, will cause up to 4300 unnecessary cancer cases per year. It is Prodi's role to lead the reform and ensure that the wishes of society are reflected in the result - and not only short-term particular business interests."

Michael Warhurst from WWF added: "It comes down to one question - do we want to phase out the chemicals that accumulate in wildlife and ourselves, and those that disrupt our hormones to which even the unborn infant is exposed? I believe that the European public does - and the European commission is failing to get moving on this crucial task."

Jorgo Iwasaki-Riss from Greenpeace added: "The very fact that these chemicals are found in common consumer products - televisions, perfumes, sportswear, cleaning and body products - only shows the degree to which unregulated chemicals have permeated our society and environment. Even ordinary housedust has become saturated with these chemicals.: To protect public health and the environment, Europe needs legislation that will require industry to substitute such hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives."

Mary Taylor from Friends of the Earth added: "According to recent polls, 38% of Europeans are very worried for the use of chemicals. More than 40% are very worried of air, water, soil and food pollution, mostly generated by chemicals. The Commission has chosen to ignore people's concerns in the name of unproven risks for the competitiveness of the chemical industry".