An update for the health and environment community in Europe
Mixed message on environmental protection of human health
In June, members of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee had a significant chance in this new Parliament to show their position on environmental health. They were voting on two files that have strong scope for reducing chemical pollution of humans and the environment. First, the revision of the EU law authorising biocides (chemicals for destroying or otherwise controlling harmful organisms in non-agricultural applications such as pest control products, disinfectants or preservatives). (Press release, June 2010) Second, the revision of the Directive on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS), which bans certain hazardous chemicals in electrical and electronic equipment. (Position paper on RoHS revision, Feb 2010) The results were quite mixed. In both votes members of the ENVI Committee introduced some important requirements for better health protection, for example on nanotechnology, but they chose not to take big strides forward overall.
On biocides, the European Parliament Committee has strengthened some health and environment protection aspects of the Commission’s proposal. For example, they emphasised the special vulnerability of children, pregnant women and other groups and voted requirements that the “combination effects” of biocides must be considered in the risk assessment of biocides (Study charts path for better protection from harmful "chemical mixtures") . On nanomaterials, the Committee introduced requirements on safety assessment methods and asked for better consumer information through mandatory labelling. MEPs also called for a new Directive on biocides use. Increasingly widespread use of biocidal products is a major concern because it may contribute to antibiotic resistance. The new directive would also be important as it could address biocide use in "sensitive areas", such as schools and kindergartens. But concerns about the draft law remain: exemptions to bans on certain hazardous chemicals, such as CMRs, EDCs or POPs, are planned which could create major loopholes. Questions also remain about the centralised EU authorisation system and the data requirements for toxicity tests.
On the RoHS revision, a coalition of public interest groups, including HEAL, has been advocating that RoHS move beyond the chemical by chemical approach and ban groups of chemicals which create persistent organic pollutants or have other toxic properties. For example, the coalition has asked for a ban on all halogenated organic chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants, and polyvinylchloride (PVC) by 2015. Unfortunately, the ENVI vote did not immediately ban any new substances but rather prioritised certain chemicals for future evaluation. New is the requirement to include most medical devices in the existing RoHS six chemicals ban by 2014. On nanomaterials, the Committee voted to ban nanosilver and carbon nanotubes and require labelling for all uses that can lead to consumer exposure. HEAL and others are disappointed that the opportunity to advance ROHS by immediately banning brominated flame retardants and PVC plastics as a significant source of global dioxin pollution was not seized.
Read all the online articles of the May & June Newsletter
Written on 30 June 2010.