NGOs and consumer groups have criticised the European Commission’s "unsatisfactory" progress in implementing chemicals policies under the 7th Environmental Action Programme.
In comments submitted to the public consultation on the evaluation of 7EAP, they said the EU has been "much too slow" in actioning policies to control endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), nanomaterials and substances in articles.
The programme, which entered into force in 2014, is driving the trade bloc’s environmental policy until 2020. Its goals include placing all relevant SVHCs on the REACH candidate list by that time – something NGOs say is in a state of "paralysis".
Under 7EAP, the EU is also committed to developing approaches to address combination effects of chemicals and safety concerns related to EDCs in all relevant legislation, exposure to chemicals in products and nanomaterials.
European consumer group Beuc said overall, progress has been "very slow", and that more action is needed to reduce and reverse the "destructive trend" of hazardous chemicals in everyday products impacting health. There is also an "urgent need" to "detoxify" the circular economy.
The Commission’s approach to chemicals policy, it said, "lacks action and ambition". It gave several recommendations, including:
- addressing the 'cocktail effect' of chemicals: the Commission must publish guidance documents promoting integrated and coordinated assessment across all relevant EU laws "as soon as possible";
- EDCs: EU leaders must draw up an "ambitious" agenda on regulating these in all consumer goods with clear objectives and observable deadlines;
- nanomaterials: a new definition is needed, as well as a provision to ensure they are considered new substances registered independently of any corresponding bulk substances and lower tonnage thresholds. A compulsory nano register requires implementation;
- substances in articles: the Commission must review and, where needed, strengthen all consumer-relevant legislation to ensure robust chemical controls are in place, especially for toys, food contact materials and imports; and
- substitution: an ambitious framework governing chemicals in recycled materials is needed to ‘detoxify’ the circular economy.
Some stakeholders said the Commission should start to plan an eighth EAP. The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) commented on the major challenge of effective implementation of chemicals policies and said the 8EAP should "continue steering the challenging processes beyond 2020".
HEAL also complained that a strategy for a non-toxic environment is yet to be put in place.
NGO the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel) said that the need for a precautionary approach on nanomaterials is "not seriously implemented". It also called for "better recognition and consideration" of the presence of toxic substances in plastics, and added that the 8EAP "should build on" feedback received by stakeholders.
The public consultation on 7EAP ran from May to July. The Commission said it received 153 responses, including 39 from NGOs and 16 from public authorities. The majority of respondents were from Italy (16%), followed by Belgium (14%), Germany (12%) and France (12%).
Close to 90% of the respondents agreed "to some degree" that 7EAP had the right focus, the Commission said. On chemicals, implementation was regarded as a key area for improvement.