Read the full article by Arthur Nelsen (The Guardian)
“The European Commission is poised to break a promise to outlaw all but the most essential of Europe’s hazardous chemicals, leaked documents show.
The pledge to ‘ban the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, allowing their use only where essential’ was a flagship component of the European green deal when it was launched in 2020.
It was expected that between 7,000 and 12,000 hazardous substances would be prohibited from use in all saleable products in an update to the EU’s Reach regulation, including many ‘forever chemicals’ – or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – which accumulate in nature and human bodies, and have been linked to various hormonal, reproductive and carcinogenic illnesses.
But the Guardian has learned that the EU’s executive is on the brink of a climbdown under heavy pressure from Europe’s chemical industry and rightwing political parties.
The industry-led backlash is causing internal disquiet over the threat to public health and policymaking. One EU official said: ‘We are being pushed to be less strict on industry all the time.’
A leaked legislative document seen by the Guardian proposes three options that would restrict 1%, 10% or 50% of products containing hazardous chemicals currently on the market. The EU typically selects the middle option.
Tatiana Santos, the head of chemicals policy at the European Environmental Bureau, said: ‘The EU’s failure to control harmful chemicals is written in the contaminated blood of almost all Europeans. Every delay brings more suffering, sickness and even early deaths. The EU’s regulatory retreat could be the nail in the coffin of the European green deal, fuelling cynicism about untrustworthy elites doing deals with big toxic lobbies, unless the commission makes good on its promise to detox products and stand up to polluters.’
The leaked 77-page impact study forms part of a revision of targets in the EU’s Reach regulation covering chemicals law, which is dated 13 January 2023 and due to be launched by the end of this year. The text could be altered but officials say the options under consideration have not substantially changed.
The draft analysis estimates that health savings from chemical bans would outweigh costs to the industry by a factor of 10. Reduced payments for treating illnesses such as cancer and obesity would amount to €11bn-€31bn (£9.4bn-£26.5bn) a year, while adjustment costs to businesses would be in the range of €0.9bn-€2.7bn a year.
An EU official speaking on condition of anonymity said efforts to dilute the legal revision were helped by ‘a complete change in the wave of support for consumers and the environment’ in Brussels, as MEPs in EU president Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s party (EPP) became queasy about environmental reform.
Several EU heads of state added to the pressure. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, called for a ‘regulatory pause’ in environmental law to help industry, while the Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo, said in May: ‘If we are overburdening people with rules and regulations, we risk losing the public support for the green agenda.’
Eleven PFAS industry players in Germany employed 94 lobbyists and spent a combined €9m in the most recent annual data, according to analysis by Corporate Europe Observatory due out later this week. In Brussels, 12 members of the PFAS industry have 72 individual lobbyists active and an annual spend of between €18.6m and €21.1m, the paper says.
The Reach reform was initially a commission priority. The commission’s first vice-president, Frans Timmermans, said in 2020: ‘It is especially important to stop using the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, from toys and childcare products to textiles and materials that come in contact with our food.’
A commission spokesperson said that Brussels ‘strives to take into account comments from stakeholders from all sides in a balanced way. This reflects all objectives of the Reach regulation, which aims at a high level of protection of human health and the environment while enhancing the competitiveness and innovation of the European chemical industry.’ ” …