EU chemical rules “do not go far enough” – Swedish minister

A controversial new set of European Union rules regulating the use of chemicals across the continent do not go far enough to safeguard health or the environment, Swedish Environment Minister Lena Sommestad said on Tuesday.

“We would have liked to go further,” Sommestad was quoted by Swedish news agency TT as saying after the EU-wide agreement was reached on Tuesday.

The EU’s plan is to set up a system for the registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals (REACH) under which companies have to register all chemicals used and provide information about them and potential hazards.

The agreement to tighten the existing regulatory framework has been opposed by lobby groups within the chemicals industry, while ecologists and health campaigners have criticized the agreement for not doing enough to address threats to the environment and human health.

Sommestad on Tuesday said she was unhappy that the agreement would require the full testing of only between 3,000 and 4,000 of the approximately 20,000 chemicals produced in Europe in volumes of less than 10 tonnes.

“Sweden would have wanted thorough tests of all chemicals, through complete test programs,” she said, insisting that the “exceptions weaken REACH as an all-inclusive program”.

Sommestad also voiced concern that Sweden, which already goes further than REACH in a number of areas, will be forced to scale back its existing chemical regulations.

“We would have wanted it to be clear that one can maintain higher levels of protection within work environment rules,” she said.

The new regulations, which have been under discussion for more than two years, are expected to become law and enter into force by the first half of 2007, with operational requirements scheduled to start from 2008 onwards.