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Posted: July 1, 2008
Trade Unions call for REACH amendment to cover nanomaterials
(Nanowerk News) European labour unions have called on the European Commission to amend the REACH regulation on chemicals to better protect workers against nanomaterials throughout their lifecycle. Their call comes shortly after the EU executive argued that nanotechnology is already covered by existing EU regulation.
"Workers all along the production chain from laboratories through to manufacturing, transport, shop shelves, cleaning, maintenance and waste management" are exposed to nanomaterials manufactured and placed on the market without true knowledge of their potential impacts on human health and the environment, states a resolution adopted by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) on June 25.
The confederation calls on the Commission to amend the bloc's chemicals legislation (REACH) to cover nanomaterials manufactured or imported below the threshold of one tonne per year. According to ETUC, nanomaterials could escape the current chemicals registration procedure as they would probably weigh less.
Unions say another argument in favour of amending REACH is the fact that the legislation's current requirement for a chemicals producer to provide a chemical safety report only for production volumes above 10 tonnes per year "will allow many manufacturers or importers to avoid doing a risk assessment before putting nanomaterials on the market". ETUC therefore wants a mandatory chemical safety report "for all substances registered under the REACH regulation for which nanometer-scale use has been identified".
Two weeks ago, the Commission adopted a Communication on regulatory aspects of nanomaterials. Based on a regulatory review of EU legislation in relevant sectors, it concluded that the potential health, safety and environmental risks in relation to nanomaterials are "in principle" covered under current EU laws on chemicals, health and safety of workers, different product safety requirements and the environment.
However, the EU executive stated that current legislation may have to be modified "for example as regards thresholds used in some legislation," leaving the door open to possible amendments to REACH.
Overall, ETUC is calling on the precautionary principle to be applied to nanotechnologies and at least 15% of public nanotech R&D money to be earmarked for safety research. "After the asbestos scandal, ETUC finds it unacceptable that products should now be manufactured without their potential effects on human health and the environment being known," said its confederal secretary, JoŽl Decaillon.
In a parallel development, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) launched a stakeholder dialogue on responsible development of nanotechnology on 24 June. In an event held in Brussels, Commission officials, trade union representatives, businesses and NGOs aimed to agree on points on which work needs to done to establish trust-based framework on the issue.
At the centre of the debate, according to Cefic, is the need to ensure risk-free and responsible innovation and strike "the right balance between concern over potential risks and confidence in potential benefits". Another stakeholder dialogue should take place early next year.