Industry deplores MEP vote on environment and health plan

The Commission’s environment and health action plan 2004-2010
has been rejected as insufficient by an overwhelming majority in
Parliament. Although non-binding, the report is nonetheless
creating waves.

MEPs backed the report by Frédérique Ries (ALDE,
Belgium) with 576 votes for, 48 against and 13 abstentions at
the parliament’s plenary sitting of 23 February 2005.

The report dismisses the environment and health action plan
2004-10 mainly for falling short on the legislative proposals
initially promised in the European environment and health strategy
(SCALE).

“The absence of scientific certainty and the need to carry out
additional research […] cannot be used as an excuse for delaying
the introduction of essential and urgent measures to reduce
children’s and adults’ exposure to environmental pollution,” the
Parliament stated in its final resolution.

The precautionary principle lies at the heart of controversy in
this debate. The main question here is to determine how and when
sufficient information is available to take further legislative
steps.

To step up preventive action, the Parliament is calling for
restrictions to be placed on the following substances:

  • six products from the phthalate family (DEHP, DINP, DBP, DIDP,
    DNOP, BBP) in domestic products for indoor use and in medical
    devices, except where such a restriction would have a negative
    impact on medical treatment, (see EURACTIV,  7 Oct. 2004)
  • chlorinated solvents used in the manufacture of paint, coatings
    and polymers,
  • mercury used in dental amalgams and in non-electrical or
    non-electronic measuring and monitoring devices (see
    EURACTIV, 1 Feb. 2005
  • cadmium (see EURACTIV, 21 Dec. 2004)
  • four pesticides (see EURACTIV,  9 July 2003)

Moreover, the Parliament is calling for research
priority to be given to “everyday consumer product
categories that contain chemicals which can lead to allergies and
cancer in humans”. 

While welcoming the vote in general terms, the European Chemical
Industry Council (CEFIC), said it "deplores the
use of a list of discriminated chemicals" in the Parliament's
resolution, arguing such a "blacklist" will "cause confusion among
consumers and downstream users". While saying it agrees with the
objectives the plan, CEFIC recommends the use of "existing
legislation" and putting the emphasis on combating "life-style
related ill-health caused by tobacco, alcohol, poor diet and lack
of exercise". It concluded by saying the Parliament's position on
using bio-monitoring to fill information gaps was "in line with the
industry stance".

"The action plan proposed by the Commission did not deserve its
name because it did not contain any concrete preventative action"
declared the rapporteur, Frédérique Ries
(ALDE, Belgium), after the vote. "It is rather a programme to
evaluate the incidence of the global environmental on health," she
said. 

The Greens/EFA reiterated earlier
criticism about the plan, calling it an "inaction plan" focusing
only on research and not on concrete legislative
measures. 

Responding to MEPs in Parliament, Environment
Commissioner Stavros Dimas said
bio-monitoring would "play an essential role" and would bring
actual value-added to the action plan. He outlined the CAFE
programme (Clean Air for Europe), and the controversial REACH
chemicals regulation as action already being undertaken. "The
precautionary principle is at the core of environment policy and it
will continue to be the cornerstone of our action," said Dimas.

In a first reaction, the environment network at the European
Public Health Alliance (EPHA EEN) said it was
important that the Parliament took a strong position on the issue.
"I think even the Commission realises that the plan is
insufficient," said EPHA EEN's policy officer Christian
Farrar-Hockley.  Farrar-Hockley admitted there is currently
"no scientific proof of link between clinical data and
environmental stresses". However, he said there is a "clear case"
for action on environmental pollutants which are "taken for
granted" (so-called 'level 1'). He says these include dioxins,
PCBs, lead, mercury and phtalates. "At the end of the day, what's
important is that a monitoring system is set up".

 

The Commission adopted its environment and health action plan
2004-2010 ahead of a WHO ministerial conference on environment and
health in June last year (see EURACTIV, 11 June
2004
).

The plan is part of the EU Strategy for Environment and Health
known as 'SCALE' (Science, Children, Awareness raising, Legal
instruments and Evaluation) adopted in June 2003. At the time,
SCALE was adopted under the joint responsibility of the
Commissioners then responsible for environment (Wallström), health
(Byrne) and research (Busquin).

  • First steps in the plan are to take measures of
    environment and health stresses in order to identify the
    routes through which people are exposed to pollutants. This
    involves taking samples of blood, urine or hair to monitor human
    exposure to environmental pollutants (so-called
    'biomonitoring').
  • By 2007, Commissioner Dimas said sufficient progress should
    have been made in establishing information systems on
    environmentally-triggered health disorders.

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