European Union and safe chemicals

On 18 May 2022, RECETOX took part in the third High-Level Round Table on the EU Chemicals Strategy, one of the most important new instruments of the Green Deal for Europe. Its implementation is among the European Commission's top priorities. The main topic of the meeting was the Roundtable members' recommendations on criteria and tools for Safe and Sustainable by Design ("SSbD"). 

18 May 2022 Lukáš Pokorný Kateřina Šebková

The High-Level Roundtable met for the first time this year in person in Brussels; previous meetings were held online due to pandemic restrictions. Virginijus Sinkevicius, EU Environment Commissioner, opened the meeting at the Commission headquarters and summarised the activities of the European Commission's plans for chemicals. The main priority will be revising the Classification, Labelling, and Packaging Regulation, the so-called CLP Regulation, and the REACH Regulation. Both of these regulations are fundamental to European chemical policy, which is why, according to the Commissioner, preparing the revision that is extremely time-consuming. The CLP Regulation sets out the procedures for collecting and assessing information on the properties and hazards of substances. One of the main objectives is to determine whether a substance or mixture has properties that lead to it being classified as dangerous.

Changing both pieces of legislation is also on the radar of all stakeholders: both industry, which is seeking the most straightforward but workable Regulation of the most dangerous substances, NGOs as well as trade unions, whose main objective is to protect the health of the public and workers.

Closely related to the revision of these two regulations is the concept of SSbD under discussion. It is not a new concept: at the international level, the concept of criteria for safe chemicals has been developed by the UN and the OECD, but the European Commission's intention to legislate on this innovative approach goes one step further. The primary motivation is to protect public health: according to the WHO, selected hazardous chemicals are responsible for 1.6 million deaths from serious diseases each year (WHO, 2016), and 90% of Europeans are concerned about the negative impact of chemicals.

Safe chemicals

The SSbD introduces the requirement that chemicals must be safe during production. The previous practice has been that even with chemicals with serious adverse effects on human health, these substances have been on the market and used, according to established safety procedures. Moreover, given the hazardous nature, recycling - which is the center of the circular economy and another concept that has already established itself as a critical approach to resource management at a global level, has been ruled out. It is essential to find safe substitutes to replace the controversial ones, which will lead to using the latest findings from science and development and thus increase the pressure for innovation.

As a representative of the NGO sector pointed out in the round table discussion, despite the industry's warnings that the adoption of REACH would disadvantage the European chemical industry at the time of its adoption, the exact opposite has happened over the last 15 years. Chemical industry representatives were receptive to the need to innovate but repeatedly stressed that the requirements of the SSbD concept must be as simple as possible for the European industry. The often conflicting positions were reflected in the quality and formulation of the recommendations produced by the Round Table.

These include the main priorities members agreed on: SSbD as a significant innovation driver with adequate financial support, the need for open access to harmonized data on chemicals, or the most rigorous possible approach for the most hazardous substances. All 11 recommendations of the Round Table members are available on the European Commission website.

At the end of the meeting, Patrick Child from DG Environment said that the Commission will immediately use the Round Table's recommendations and include them in the draft Strategic Research and Innovation Plan (SRIP) it is currently preparing for the Chemicals Strategy.

The following Round Table will occur during the EU Council's Czech Presidency in late 2022. It will address recommendations on how to support the transition of the chemical industry to the energy and other objectives of the EU Green Deal, the so-called "transition pathways."

RECETOX

RECETOX was represented at the meeting by Kateřina Šebková and Lukáš Pokorný. Lukáš Pokorný acted as moderator of one of the groups on the data, finance, and education recommendations. As a member of the roundtable, Kateřina Šebková also serves as an ambassador for the chemical strategy, the objectives she is expected to promote from her role on appropriate occasions. RECETOX's main contribution in this regard was Katerina Šebková's appearance at the side event of the Environmental Assembly, the so-called UNEA, and the organization of a webinar for Macedonian experts on the topic of synergies between chemical conventions.


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