REACH to guarantee stricter control of hazardous chemicals

27.1.2006 - Prague

In the last two weeks, Czech Republic saw one of the largest ecological disasters within few decades. Toxic cyanides leaked from chemical plant LZ Draslovka based in town Kolín and poisoned more than 70 km of the largest Czech river, the Elbe. According to Arnika, this case is just a “tip of glacier” which pointed by especially cruel way on a general problem i.e. on insufficient assurance of factories against releases of toxic substances and on overall disappreciation of the danger connected with the chemicals in use. The hazardous chemicals might get under control thanks to new EU legislation know as REACH (1).

One of significant goals of the REACH is a substitution of all hazardous chemicals in products and production processes with substances which represent safer alternatives. It means that pollutants would not leak to environment in such quantities as they do nowadays. It will also slacken consequences of accidents similar to the last which affected Elbe. Result and success depends mainly on the deputies of European Parliament (EP),”  former EP deputy Inger Schörling (2) said today during Arnika’s press conference. Schörling arrived in Prague upon Arnika’s request a day before. She also presented her new book “REACH – What has happened and why?”.

„This book is probably the most understandable work about the REACH. It also brings interesting information from backroom fights between lobbyists of large industrial combines on one side and supporters of stricter chemical control on European market on the other. We believe that the book will become inevitable not only for journalists who wright about the issue of REACH but first of all politicians who are going to decide about this legislation in Brussels. All Czech EP deputies will get the book as a present,” said Arnika’s spokesman Marek Jehlička.

Adoption of the REACH in the strictest possible version is also essential for fishermen who suffer from the Elbe accident most of all. “In 1964, ‘only’ 150 kg of cyanide poisoned 60 km passage of river Jihlava. In the case of Elbe, the quantity of cyanides might not have been much higher, but we can see to what extent water environment is sensitive on the chemicals. And that is a point of view which makes the book  about REACH interesting for us. We want the new legislation to set really strict regulations to prevent such accidents in future,” said Václav Ehrlich, chief-editor of magazine “Sport Fishing”  (“Sportovní rybolov” in Czech).

Arnika’s chairman Jindřich Petrlík said that right know no-one can confirm that adoption of REACH will bring exactly substitution of the cyanides in Draslovka by safer alternatives.  “The most important thing is actually to adopt substituting the hazardous toxics in the EP as a principle. Lobbyists working for industry develop a strong pressure against that. After the adoption itself it will be possible to discuss about which toxic chemicals can be substituted and which cannot,” Petrlík explained.

He also pointed on fact that the stricter control and substitution of the toxics does not relate only to the fishermen and ecological accidents.  In his preface to the book about REACH, Joe DiGangi says that nowadays the chemicals are almost ubiquitous. We are in contact with them when we carry babies, relax on a sofa, watch TV or when we eat a good lunch. Recent tests revealed presence of hazardous chemicals in breast milk of Czech women, in eggs of hens grown in free breeding, in a blood of Czech Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek and also in tissues of carps eaten on Christmas Eve. REACH is thus irretrievable preventive measure significant for all of us,” Petrlík added.

Arnika’s petition “Toxic Free Future II”, requesting that “REACH, newly prepared EU chemical policy, shall have a form that would guarantee protection of human health and environment from undesired effects of chemicals” was as of yet signed by 14 thousand people including prominent scientists such as professor Vladimír Benck, Kamil Ševela, mayors of towns Děčín ( Vladislav Raška – Civic Democratic Party) and Kralupy nad Vltavou (Pavel Rynt, KAN _ Club of Uninvolved Non-party Members), musician Petr Váša and many others. Half of Czech EP deputies have so far ignored this request in the first reading and voting about the REACH in European Parliament.

(1)    REACH = abbreviation of the words Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals.
This proposal aims to introduce new system regulating transfer of the chemicals. Its core is:
A)    Registration of approx. 30 000 chemical substances which now appear on European market in quantity over 1 tonne.
B)    Evaluation of usage of these chemicals and other substances suspicious of having harmful impacts on human health.
C)    Autorisation of chemicals which are highly hazardous. This would practically mean that in case of the risky chemicals industries would have to ask for authorization for a license for using the chemicals  in production (processing other products).

Proposal of REACH is based on precautionary principle, which in relation to the chemicals means that before allowing to produce and use a chemical without any limits and obstacles, there must be sufficient data about its safety. REACH is to replace current system when tens of thousand chemicals have been used even though only minimum information about them is available.
The proposal passed its first reading in the EP and was discussed by the Council of Ministers responsible for a  competitiveness. The second reading is to take place in summer 2006 when the deputies will comment on changes proposed by the Council. The principle of substituting the most hazardous chemicals by safer alternatives will probably become the most discussed issue. Even though this requirement has passed the first reading, the Council rejected it. In case the EP adopts all changes made by the Council, the legislation is approved. Otherwise, REACH will be discussed in a committee consisting of representants of EP and the Council (so called Court of conciliation) which would work out a proposal to be discussed by the EP in the third reading when it can be either confirmed or finally rejected.

(2)    Inger Schörling was EP member from 1995 to 2004. She co-founded Swedish Green Party and was the first green leader in the Swedish Parliament in 1988-1991. She was also a vice-president of Greens in the EP in 1997-1999.

In 2001 she became a reporter for the White Paper – Strategy for future chemical policy in the EP. Since then she dealt intensively with the REACH issue and summarized her experience and knowledge in the book “REACH – What has happened and why?” This book is probably the most comprehensible work about REACH. It brings interesting information from backroom political fights between industrial lobbyists and supporters of stricter control of chemical on the EU market.


Arnika - Toxics and Waste Programme - Marek Jehlička

International activities