The broad policy goal has a lot of support — underlined by the recent report from the European Environment Agency finding that exposure to pollution causes over 10 percent of all cancer cases in Europe.
But while green groups urge faster action and a far tighter regulatory regime, industry is calling for caution, warning that badly framed rules could hobble innovation and of unintended consequences for innovation and consumer satisfaction.
Those differences were on stark display at a POLITICO working group, where policymakers, industry leaders and NGOs debated the path to making chemicals more sustainable.
A key friction point is grouping — the term for restricting or banning substances posing similar hazards, risks or functions instead of going one-by-one.
The aim is to make regulating chemicals simpler and quicker, and to ensure chemicals manufacturers can’t replace one dangerous, banned substance with another similarly dodgy chemical — as has happened in the past.
But that’s worrying the European chemicals industry; while companies aren’t objecting to the method itself, they do hold strong opinions on how such groups should be defined. They warn chemicals can have fundamental differences in properties and related behaviors, and that grouping could lead to broader-than-needed restrictions.
“The groups need to make sense,” said Marco Mensink, head of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic). If the approach is too wide, then industry will be forced to push for reams of exemptions. “The whole system will go down and get clogged by derogations,” he said.
Green groups have an answer for that: Don’t allow derogations, said ClientEarth’s Apolline Roger.
“I must say I’m surprised because the chemical industry is the best expert I know on grouping,” added European Environmental Bureau policy expert Tatiana Santos, who pointed out that the industry has long registered chemicals for use on the EU market by group.
The European Commission is sticking with the idea of grouping, but is aware of the pressure surrounding opt-outs.
“We have to find a good combination between grouping and derogations,” said Giuseppe Casella from the EU executive’s industry and internal market department.
2. Essential use
Another contentious area is “essential use” — a concept which is supposed to ensure that harmful chemicals are only allowed if they are essential for health and safety or are critical for the functioning of society and if there are no alternatives.