LIFE 13 ENV/IT/00849

Environmental Problem

Environmental Problem Targeted

EU regulations to control risks from industrial chemicals were first drafted in the 1960s and 1970s to facilitate trade in the common market. Since the early and mid-1980s, environmental and health issues have become increasingly important to EU policy-makers; stimulating alterations and amendments of the original legislation. An example of this is the Dangerous Substance Directive 67/548/EEC (EEC, 1967). However, EU institutions see the Directive as confusing and lacking satisfactory levels of health and environmental protection ( “An analysis of the proposed REACH regulation”, by T. Petry et al, 2005 on Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 44 (2006) 24-32).

This led, in 2001, the European Commission to finally adopt the “White Paper on a Strategy for a future Chemicals Policy” and in 2003, to present a first draft of the new chemicals legislation.

This “new” legislation that we are talking about is the Regulation 1907/2006 also called REACH (Regulation, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals) that represent a major change in the way in which risk associated with chemicals can be managed in the European Union. First of all because it replaced over than 40 already existing EU Directive and Regulation and it ended the regulatory differentiation between new and existing substances.

It is, also, a huge step towards the protection of both the environment and the human health, as it stated in the Article 1 of REACH Regulation, by embracing the precautionary and sustainability principles. In fact some chemicals substances have made huge damage to the environment and to human health. One of the main example is the Asbestos problem, that can lead to cancer, or the benzene that can induce leukemia, or even the PCB or DDT that can cause dysfunction on the reproductive system. It is true that the use of these kind of substances is now illegally in the European Union, but the problem is that the necessary measures were taken once the damage was already been done.

Ideally scientist nowadays, should be capable to predict likely effects of a chemical compound on human health directly or indirectly via food, crops, livestock, wildlife or climate before the substance will be released on the European market from the study of occupational medicine, toxicology, pharmacology etc. We also need to know about the effects of a chemical upon wildlife species, following its disposal into the environment etc, as a matter of fact chemicals can enter the air, the soil and the water where they are produced, used or disposed. Some chemicals can be harmful if released to the environment even when there is not an immediate, visible impact. Some chemicals are of concern as they can work their way up to the food chain and from the environment pass through animals and reach humans and along this path they can accumulate and/or persist in the environment for many years, causing problem not only in the immediate future but also over long period of time (for example the damage caused by CFCs).

So, the REACH Regulation, indeed, has been deployed because there had been an increasing incidence of diseases over the last decades in which certain chemicals appeared to play a causative role, for instance the substances named before. That is the reason why in the REACH Regulation there is the requirement for producers and importers of chemicals to prove that their substances are safe before they can be placed on the market.