STRENGTHENED CHEMICALS LEGISLATION IN EU
Tens of thousands of chemical compounds are used today in industry and countless products. New substances come into being on a daily basis. For many of these chemicals, however, effects on health and the environment are incompletely known.
When the EU developed new legislation intended to start filling the knowledge gaps, the NewS programme showed how a more effective strategy for risk assessment and risk management of chemicals could be attained. This strategy included better ways of using incomplete information and more effective ways of ranking priorities. In several sectors, the programme contributed to the final version of the European Community Regulation known as REACH (on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances), which entered into force in 2007.
WHAT RESULTS HAS THE PROGRAMME HAD?
The NewS research has helped to clarify how the precautionary principle can be applied in practice when there is scientific evidence for suspecting possible negative effects of chemicals. Above all, this has been studied with respect to effects that disturb reproduction, and for two substance categories: musk substances and brominated flame retardants. In NewS, new testing methods were also developed to study the persistence of these substances, i.e. their slow rate of degradation in the environment. The research also showed that cheaper and better tests can be used and combined more efficiently in risk management.
One strength of the programme was that it included researchers focusing both on environmental chemistry and toxicology, on the one hand, and on legislation and risk management on the other. This wide-ranging approach was valuable to make the results usable and enable the researchers to contribute to work on the new chemicals legislation.
WHO HAS BENEFITED FROM THE RESEARCH?
Through its close dialogue between researchers and decision-makers, the programme has meant that, today, decisions on chemicals legislation are better supported. It has also shown new forms of decision-making in managing the risks of chemicals. There has been active outreach of results and recommendations to decision-makers and other parties concerned, through seminars and other activities. Accordingly, the programme has been a valuable forum for discussions on key issues relating to development of international chemicals policy.
Practical contributions to work at EU level include the fact that, already, the minimum testing requirements in REACH include a short-term test to addresses the acute toxicity of chemicals. The EU legislation also includes the provision that an indication that a substance is dangerous suffices for the test requirements to be made more stringent.
Besides contributing to EU chemicals legislation, research has also focused on international work on risk management of chemicals. The proposals for new tests made in the NewS programme have been thoroughly discussed within the OECD’s endeavour to develop new chemicals tests. The programme has also strengthened work on chemicals issues at the Swedish Chemicals Agency and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and also in the business sector, through contacts with various bodies, including trade organisations.