Chemicals strategy for sustainability

In “A European Green Deal”

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In its 2020 work programme, the European Commission announced, under the European Green Deal, the launch of a Chemicals strategy for sustainability in the third quarter of the year.

On 10 July 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution outlining its key demands and priorities as regards the upcoming strategy. Parliament asked, among others, that the strategy achieves coherence and synergies between chemicals legislation, occupational safety and health and related EU legislation, including specific and general product legislation; legislation on water, soil and air; legislation on sources of pollution, including industrial installations, as well as legislation on waste. It underlined that the strategy should be based on robust and up-to-date scientific evidence, taking account of the risk posed by endocrine disruptors, hazardous chemicals in imported products, and combination effects of different chemicals and very persistent chemicals. The EP requested an action plan to close the gaps in the current legal framework preventing the presence of chemicals in products, giving priority to the products that consumers come into close and frequent contact with, such as textiles, furniture, children’s products and absorbent hygiene products. It also supported the ‘one substance – one hazard assessment’ principle (meaning that substances should be reviewed by only one Union agency), as well as the creation of a fully connected and interoperable EU chemical safety database. Parliament further called on the Commission to present a legislative proposal to include substances that are toxic for reproduction within the scope of the directive on carcinogens and mutagens at work; to come up with a clear action plan and, if necessary, legislative proposals to address persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances (PBTs); very persistent and very bioaccumulative substances (vPvBs) and persistent and mobile substances; to set specific targets to significantly reduce both the use of chemical pesticides and the risk arising from them. It also reaffirmed its calls for a comprehensive European Union framework on endocrine disruptors.

The Commission put forward the announced Chemicals strategy for sustainability on 14 October 2020. The strategy is based on the following five strands of action:

  • Innovating for safe and sustainable EU chemicals. Measures foreseen include, among others, developing EU safe and sustainable-by-design criteria for chemicals; introducing legal requirements on the presence of substances of concern in products through the initiative on sustainable products (planned for the fourth quarter of 2021); making amendments to the EU legislation on industrial emissions to promote the use of safer chemicals by EU industry.
  • Strengthening the EU legal framework to address pressing environmental and health concerns. Actions will be targeted at the protection of consumers and workers against most harmful chemicals; endocrine disruptors; chemical mixtures; chemical pollution in the natural environment and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
  • Simplifying and consolidating the legal framework. Proposed measures include, inter alia, the establishment of a ‘one substance, one assessment’ process to coordinate the hazard/risk assessment on chemicals across chemical legislation; a proposal to strengthen the governance of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and increase the sustainability of its financing model; a proposal to revise the REACH authorisation and restriction processes.
  • Building a comprehensive knowledge base on chemicals. It is notably foreseen to develop an EU early warning and action system for chemicals to ensure that EU policies address emerging chemical risks as soon as identified by monitoring and research; and to create a framework of indicators to monitor the drivers and impacts of chemical pollution and measure the effectiveness of chemicals legislation.
  • Setting the example for a global sound management of chemicals. Actions will aim, notably, at supporting capacity-building of third countries in chemicals assessment and management; and at ensuring that hazardous chemicals banned in the EU are not produced for export.

The strategy proposes several amendments to the REACH Regulation (including on authorisation and restriction processes, compliance checks, requirements for registration). A revision of REACH 'in the most targeted way possible' is planned for 2022.

An exchange of views with the EU Commissioner for Environment took place in the ENVI Committee on 15 October 2020. Committee members generally supported the strategy, acknowledging that it takes on board many of the elements highlighted in Parliament's resolution of 10 July 2020.

The Council endorsed the strategy on 15 March 2021. In its conclusions, it expressly supported the five main areas of action. It welcomed the aim of the ‘one substance, one assessment̕ approach and stressed the importance of clear legal provisions in EU product law and in the sustainable products initiative ensuring that chemicals, materials and products are safe and sustainable-by-design. It underlined the need to ensure that PFAS are eliminated, unless their use is proven essential to society; and to strengthen the European legal framework in the area of endocrine disruptors. It supported the announced amendment of REACH in a targeted manner, accompanied by a comprehensive impact assessment.

On 16 May 2022, ENVI Committee members held an exchange of views with the Commission and the ECHA on progress in the strategy implementation. They discussed work on the upcoming revisions of REACH and the CLP Regulation on classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals; and the 'restrictions roadmap', published on 25 April 2022. The roadmap, which is among the key actions of the strategy, includes a rolling list of substances - the most harmful to human health and the environment - that will be prioritised for (group) restrictions under REACH.

References:

Author: Vivienne Halleux, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/05/2022.
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