Thousands of chemicals headed for further testing
Compromise position angers industry, pleases animal-rights activists.
The European Parliament's environment committee passed judgement on a bill for chemical testing on Tuesday, producing a relatively environmentalist suggestion for how the final bill should look.
The suggestions of the environment committee, which is in charge of the legislation, has left animal-rights activists jubilant, but industrial lobbyists horrified.
The battle is far from over, however. This is just an early step in a long legislative process, and groups will have time to lobby further for changes before the bill becomes law in 2007. The next stage is a full parliamentary vote in mid-November, when it is due to have its first reading.
The legislation, known as REACH (Regulation, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), has been controversial since it was proposed two years ago by the European Commission.
Europe produces an estimated 30,000 chemicals for which toxicity information has never been registered. REACH aims to correct this, and to set out requirements for the toxicity testing of future chemicals. A new agency, the European Chemicals Agency, will catalogue the data.
Industry has claimed that the new requirements will cost them billions of euros, and wants the legislation softened for chemicals for which the risk of exposure is deemed to be negligible. Animal-welfare groups temporarily found themselves on the same side as industry, fearing that millions more animals would be sacrificed on the altar of REACH.
The legislative process has been slowed by aggressive lobbying. The environment committee had to work its way through 1,500 proposed amendments introduced by industry, market and environment committees, throwing many of them away. "In many cases, the objectives of REACH were just being gutted [by these amendments]," says Chris Davies, a member of the environment committee. One idea that was abandoned would have put the burden of proof about a chemical on the shoulders of the new agency rather than its producer.
The final list of amendments voted through on Tuesday sets out three levels of testing, based on the volume of the chemical produced each year. The proposal suggests testing chemicals produced at 1-10-tonne volumes per year only if there is reason for concern about them for example, if their structures resemble those of other chemicals that are known to be toxic. Of the 17,500 chemicals in this category now on the market, only 7,000 would probably need to be tested.
But the bill doesn't suggest weakening the requirements for chemicals produced in intermediate (10-1,000) or high (over 1,000) tonnage. Those produced at high tonnage would require a full range of testing, including reproductive toxicity, which will involve following the welfare of rats exposed to the chemical through two generations. Testing a chemical would probably cost around €2 million (US$2.4 million) each.
Crucially, a further approved amendment proposes that no animals should be used for toxicity testing where approved alternatives exist.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection welcomed this outcome, saying the "lives of many millions of animals will be saved".
But the UK Chemical Industries Association says the proposals represent a "bureaucratic nightmare that will do little to ensure the safe use of chemicals within Europe".