Brussels, 03 Dec 2003
A workshop has been organised this week to delve into the Commission's proposal for regulating the European chemicals industry and what this could mean for research, the JRC announced.
The final draft of a new chemical regulation system was published by the European Commission on 29 October. The chemical legislation – along with the new system for the registration, evaluation, and authorisation of chemicals (Reach) – aims to improve protection of human health and the environment from uncontrolled chemical use. Broadly, this would be achieved through greater identification of chemicals and increased testing, a Joint Research Centre (JRC) statement reads.
To head off any potential misunderstanding about how this new regulation might affect research activities in Europe, the JRC organised this week a workshop entitled 'The Reach system: what does it mean for research?'. Held at the JRC's Ispra site in Italy, with the Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin present, leading experts explained the scientific and technical aspects of the new legislation.
"The new EU chemicals policy aims to provide an effective instrument to policy-makers for making well-informed choices regarding the safe use of chemicals," said Commissioner Busquin. "EU research will play a key role in this process, both in terms of chemical substances' innovation and… finding appropriate modern alternative[s]… to time-consuming, expensive animal tests for the evaluation of chemicals' safety."
The JRC, a Commission Directorate-General providing scientific advice and technical know-how to support EU policies, outlined its role in supporting the legislation and Reach, and how this fits in with the European Chemicals Bureau and other stakeholders. Recent developments in chemical exposure assessments, risk-based testing and what the future needs of science might be in this area were also covered in the workshop organised under the aegis of the Italian EU Presidency.
The Reach system is designed to protect people and the environment. It involves monitoring for safety both new and existing chemicals manufactured or imported into the Union. The JRC statement read: "Knowledge of the effects of many chemical substances on human health is poor. (…) Exposure to chemicals might be the cause of reproductive problems in animals, and be responsible for increases in the number of cancer and allergy patients."
The legislation is also intended to preserve and enhance European competitiveness and innovation in the chemicals industry. "One concern was that the system might restrict innovation, and a five-year exemption for R&D, extendible to 10 years, was introduced into the draft regulations earlier this year," according to Research Europe. "The final draft goes further, both in its general provisions and in allowances for certain sorts of R&D. The threshold for all registration has been raised from 10kg to 1 tonne per year, so that any R&D involving amounts of chemicals below this level is automatically excluded from the system."
This provision will cover all of what the Commission calls scientific R&D, lab-scale R&D or work supporting reference standards. The Commission's proposals are being considered by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.