Posted: June 2, 2009

'Helsinki Chemicals Agenda' stresses need for global regulation

(Nanowerk News) More global regulation on chemicals is required, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas agreed at a forum last week, urging action on 'chemical cocktails', endocrine disruptors and nanotechnology.
The first Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF), an annual meeting of stakeholders from industry, research, authorities and NGOs, took place on 27-29 May in Helsinki, where the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is located.
The aim of the meeting was to shape a 'Helsinki Agenda' for safe and sustainable development, manufacture and use of chemicals. The agenda aims to define the topical and critical issues related to chemistry and its interest groups regarding: competitiveness and innovation, industry regulation, safety and sustainability and consumer awareness.
The agenda is currently being drafted and should be made public shortly, but a summary of its key points already notes that "there is a clear need for more global chemical industry regulation".
Ahead of the forum, HCF Secretary-General Kyösti Sysiö told EurActiv that the aim of the organisers was to develop the HCF into an annual 'Chemicals Doha' bringing together stakeholders from all over the world. While this year's forum primarily focused on Europe, the aim is to have a stronger US representation in years to come, Sysiö said.
"I strongly support the Forum's ambition to provide a global platform to debate and discuss chemicals," said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, adding that the EU's chemicals regulation (REACH) should "help us influence what is going on worldwide". He welcomed ongoing reviews of chemicals legislation in the US, China and Japan, and noted how these countries had "closely" observed REACH implementation in the EU.
Klaus Berend from the Commission's chemicals unit said that REACH already "affects global trade policy because the EU is one of the largest importers of chemicals and end products". Even if similar chemical legislation is not applied on other continents, market forces will force countries outside the EU to take into account the requirements set by REACH, the forum noted.
Chemical industry groups argued that while the world's chemical producers have already established a voluntary system for gathering and transmitting the information required by REACH around the world (Global Product Stewardship), new instruments are needed for global information transfer.
They also underlined that "considerable effort must be taken to raise awareness" about all kinds of chemicals and their harmful effects, and to make sure that data about chemical substances generated by the EU's REACH regulation reaches end users.
As for the challenges ahead, Commissioner Dimas stressed the need to close remaining knowledge gaps surrounding 'chemical cocktails'. While REACH considers the effects of single substances, "the fact is that we are most commonly exposed to a cocktail of many different substances," he said.
The commissioner also called for the development of specific criteria and test methods to determine the endocrine disrupting properties of chemicals, which can affect the development of the brain and reproductive organs, for example.
Lastly, Dimas called for more work to consider "whether specific legislation is required to address the risks that may result from the use of nanotechnologies".
During the forum, EU business lobby group BusinessEurope called for reducing the financial burden of REACH through phased payment of registration fees. It also called for accurate guidance about REACH obligations in order to guarantee legal certainty. It argued that companies are "still left with legal uncertainties because of inconsistency or lack of coordination between different pieces of legislation".
BusinessEurope Director-General Philippe de Buck said: "REACH is currently too costly and too uncertain. European companies have mobilised considerable resources to fulfil REACH obligations. It is now urgent, after two years, that ECHA and the Commission adopt the most cost-effective implementation measures and guarantee legal certainty."
Next steps
  • 11-15 May 2009: Second UN International Conference on Chemicals Management took place (EurActiv 18/05/09).
  • 27-29 May 2009: First global Helsinki chemicals forumexternal.
  • 28 May 2009: Competitiveness Council conclusionsPdf external on chemicals industry published.
  • 4 June 2009: The 'Helsinki Agenda' will be announced on the HCF website.
  • 20-21 May 2010: Helsinki Chemicals Forum 2010 will take place, focusing on chemistry and climate change.
  • Source: EurActiv
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