EU Sued Over REACH Chemical Secrecy

by | May 10, 2011

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The European Chemicals Agency is being sued by environmental law organization ClientEarth and non-profit ChemSec over its refusal to release the names of companies producing what the two groups call some of the most dangerous chemicals in the EU market.

The lawsuit alleges several violations of European laws designed to promote transparency, democracy, and legitimacy in EU policy-making.

The chemicals in question are 356 of those on ChemSec’s SIN, or Substitute It Now, list. The list comprises chemicals identified as substances of very high concern under the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations. ChemSec says these are chemicals that can cause cancer, damage reproductive systems, or alter human DNA, as well as toxic substances that accumulate in nature with serious and long-term irreversible effects.

According to ChemSec, the agency has refused to disclose both the names of the facilities producing these dangerous chemicals and the amounts in which they are placed in the EU market. ClientEarth and ChemSec state that this refusal conflicts with REACH, which is designed to protect public health by prohibiting the unsafe use of chemicals, as well as EU transparency laws on disclosure of environmental information.

Jerker Ligthart, ChemSec’s SIN list project coordinator, says: “ClientEarth and ChemSec are fighting to establish a principle: that people have the right to know about dangerous chemicals to which they and their environment are exposed. These chemicals are present in many consumer products, from detergents and paints to computers and toys, and often in high concentrations. Knowing who is producing dangerous substances, and the level of exposure, is vital to safeguard the public. Commercial interests should not be given precedence over people’s health.”

The lawsuit follows moves by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency toward greater transparency of where potentially hazardous chemicals are being used.

Last year the EPA established a plan to review confidentiality claims for the names of chemicals addressed in health and safety studies. Under these new procedures the agency is moving to declassify many chemical identities so they are no longer secret.

In February the EPA notified five companies that the identities of 14 chemicals, which claimed as confidential, are not eligible for confidential treatment.

The U.S. agency said the move would “increase public access to chemical information to help Americans understand risks posed by chemicals in our environment.”

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