New chemicals policy will promote innovation, say environmental groups

January 31, 2003

Brussels, 30 Jan 2003

A discussion paper by the WWF (world wildlife fund) and the European Environmental Bureau claims that the EU's new chemicals policy will promote innovation.

The Commission is currently finalising draft legislation aiming to create a uniform system under which both existing and new chemicals have to be registered and assessed. The new legislation was triggered by increasing concerns over the safety of chemicals and the inability of the existing system to deal with them.

The paper has been published in response to claims by industry and some governments that the new policy will damage the chemical industry. It claims that the policy is 'in many ways a schoolbook example of innovation-friendly regulation' as it does not tell business which chemicals to produce or which processes to use.

The paper also gives examples of the positive impact that new regulations have had on innovation. These include a case in Sweden in the 1970s and early 1980s when strict emission rules, combined with increased consumer awareness, forced producers to phase out chlorine gas in pulp bleaching. This stimulated the Swedish paper industry to develop new, more environmentally friendly processes, which have since been exported all over the world.

Hundreds of dangerous chemicals have already been classified, labelled and assessed under the direction of the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). The JRC's expertise will be valuable in the development and implementation of new legislation, as well as in ensuring continuity between the old and new systems in the transition phase of establishing a new central body to control chemicals in Europe, as the Commission will propose.

The new system could lead to an increase in animal testing as there are currently few alternative tests available. The Commission is therefore emphasising the urgent need to develop alternative methods which use fewer or no animals at all, while providing enough information to assess whether or not a substance is hazardous.

The JRC's Centre for the validation of alternative methods (ECVAM) plays a major role in validating alternative testing methods. One such method is (quantitative structure-activity relationships ([Q]SARs) - a computer model able to predict chemical toxicity based on chemical structure. The JRC, together with industry and the Member States, has developed plans to encourage this approach in the future. To see the WWF and EEB paper, please visit: http://www.panda.org/downloads/europe/ww feebreachnewopforindustry.pdf

For further information on ECVAM, please visit:
http://ecvam.jrc.it/index.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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