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EU Backtracks on Pledge to Ban Harmful Chemicals

Leaked documents show that the European Commission is poised to renege on its pledge to ban all but the most important European hazardous chemicals.

The pledge to ban the most harmful chemicals in consumer products and only allow them where necessary is a flagship component of the 2020 European Green Deal launch.

Between 7,000 and 12,000 hazardous substances are expected to be banned in all marketable products in an update to the EU’s Reach regulation, including many “permanent chemicals” – or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – which Accumulates in nature and in humans and is associated with various hormonal, reproductive and carcinogenic diseases.

But the Guardian has learned that the European Commission is on the verge of backing down under intense pressure from Europe’s chemical industry and right-wing parties.

The industry-led backlash is stirring internal unease about threats to public health and policymaking. “We have been asked to relax the strict requirements on industry,” an EU official said.

A leaked legislative document seen by The Guardian proposes three options that would limit products currently on the market that contain 1%, 10% or 50% of harmful chemicals. The EU usually chooses the middle option.

“The EU’s failure to control harmful chemicals is written in the contaminated blood of almost all Europeans,” said Tatiana Santos, director of chemicals policy at the European Environmental Bureau. Every delay can lead to more misery, disease, and even premature death. The EU regulatory backoff could be a nail in the coffin of the European Green Deal, fueling cynicism about untrustworthy elites dealing with large toxic lobby groups unless the European Commission follows through on its pledge to decontaminate products and fight polluters . ”

The leaked 77-page impact study is part of a targeted revision of the EU’s Reach regulation, which covers chemicals law, with a January 13, 2023 revision date due to start by the end of the year. The text could be changed, but officials said there were no major changes to the options under consideration.

The draft analysis estimates that the health savings from banning the chemicals would exceed the industry’s costs by a factor of 10. Spending on treating conditions such as cancer and obesity would fall by between 11 billion and 31 billion euros (9.4 billion to 26.5 billion pounds) a year, while adjusted costs for businesses would be between 900 million and 2.7 billion euros a year.

In addition to PFAS, EU regulators surveyed the blood and urine of 13,000 EU citizens last year and found that 17% of European children were at risk from exposure to a mixture of phthalates linked to developmental and reproductive disorders . Traces of the reproductively toxic endocrine disruptor BPA were found in 92% of adults.

According to Dr Marike Kolossa-Gehring, coordinator of the study, more than 34 million tons of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductively toxic substances were consumed in Europe in 2020.

But the Reach update has been delayed by disagreements between the two committee departments tasked with drafting the new law: the Environment Agency pushed for the strong measure; the Internal Market Council also opposed it.

An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been a “radical shift in the wave of support for consumers and the environment” in Brussels, helping to downplay efforts to revise the law as EU President Ursula von der Leyen ( MEPs in the European People’s Party (EPP), led by Ursula von der Leyen, are uneasy about environmental reforms.

“The committee feels almost like a given that we can’t give industry too much trouble – regardless of the benefits to public health – and companies suffer a lot from our regulations on chemicals,” the official said. losses, so we should try to make it easier for them.”

Several EU heads of state also increased the pressure. French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “regulatory moratorium” in environmental laws to help industry, while Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in May: “If we use Regulations overburden people and we risk losing public support for a green agenda.”

In September last year, the EPP first proposed “suspension of regulation to defer actions … such as Reach, which may unnecessarily increase costs for businesses”. Meanwhile, German chemical giant BASF announced “permanent” job cuts in Europe, linking them to “over-regulation”.

The German VCI industry association called for a postponement of the chemical ban as early as March 2022. VCI director Wolfgang Grosse Entrup said last month that a related proposal to ban permanent chemicals would have a “fatal” effect on German industry. “With each of these substances banned in the EU, the risk of further migration of our industry to less regulated regions increases,” he said.

Last year, the VCI gave more than 150,000 euros to the Christian Democratic Union of the European People’s Party and the German Christian Social Union.

According to the VCI, “chemical bans based on percentage targets make little sense because the hazardous characteristics, applications and potential risks of these substances vary widely.” and appropriate risk management,” it added.

Eleven companies in the PFAS industry in Germany employ 94 lobbyists, spending a total of 9 million euros in the most recent annual figure, according to an analysis by the Corporate Europe Observatory to be published later this week. In Brussels, 12 members of the PFAS industry have 72 active individual lobbyists with annual expenditures between 18.6 million euros and 21.1 million euros, the newspaper said.

A major lobbying battle has focused on new stocks of polymers, the building blocks of plastics, in the Reach reforms, EU officials said. The current situation resembles “regulatory capture” of incumbents to stifle the growing alternative chemicals industry, they added.

Reach reform was initially a committee priority. Frans Timmermans, the committee’s first vice-chairman, said in 2020: “It is especially important to stop the use of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, from toys and childcare products to those that come into contact with our food. Textiles and materials.”

A spokesman for the European Commission said Brussels “tries to consider the views of various stakeholders in a balanced way”. This reflects all the objectives of the Reach Regulation, which aims at a high degree of protection of human health and the environment while enhancing the competitiveness and innovation of the European chemical industry. The Commission will also need to ensure proportionality and policy coherence with other important goals such as climate neutrality, digital transformation and reducing over-reliance on imported strategic materials. “

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