July 10, 2003

European Union's 2003 Draft Chemicals Policy

Key materials
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European Union's Chemicals Policy Concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals

Stated Purpose:

"The Regulation lays down provisions on substances within the meaning of Point 2 (1). These provisions shall apply to the manufacture, import or use of such substances on their own, in preparations or in articles, unless otherwise stated."

Summary of RSP Comment:

In May 2003, the European Commission requested public comment on draft legislation to implement a new chemicals policy. This legislation would establish a testing and regulatory framework for the manufacture and importation of chemicals into the European Union. An alarming feature of the proposed framework is its reliance on the precautionary principle rather than on traditional scientific risk assessment, risk management, and public administration.

This approach undermines (1) traditional risk assessment, which uses scientific methods to give an accurate description of possible hazards and their probabilities (2) traditional risk management, which balances the risks, costs, and benefits of alternative decisions in order to maximize the net public benefit and (3) traditional public administration, which requires authorities to provide a sound reason before invoking the coercive power of the state.

By directing regulatory efforts at presumed risks, a chemicals policy based on the precautionary principle will provide the public merely with presumed benefits. At the same time, because it does not consider the consequences of forgoing a given activity or banning a particular substance, it will impose on the public some very real costs. In addition, such a policy tends to be biased against newer technology, thus discouraging innovation and denying the public access to improved substances and products. Since new technology generally tends to be cleaner, safer, more energy efficient, and more effective, a systematic bias against new technology will have consequences for public health and the environment that are the opposite of the stated intent of the chemicals policy. Lastly, the proposed regulatory framework for chemicals will have serious economic effects on the chemicals industry and international trade.