Thursday, 8 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
138. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Government’s position on the mandatory substitution of hazardous chemicals by suitable safer alternatives where they already exist on the market; if he will report on discussions that have taken place at European level on this matter involving his Department; the position taken by his Department in votes or discussions; the Government’s position on the proposed new EU chemicals legislation, REACH; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22075/06]
139. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in view of the fact that the principle of mandatory substitution was upheld by the European Parliament in November of 2005 and is used in other European legislation such as the Biocide Directive, he will explain his Department’s attempts to oppose mandatory substitution in the REACH directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22076/06]
The EU Council of Ministers reached unanimous political agreement on a common position on the REACH Regulation on 13 December 2005. The political agreement is a delicately balanced compromise of Member States’ positions, which was informed by the Commission’s original proposal and by the various amendments suggested by the European Parliament in its First Reading Report of 17 November 2005. The Common Position is expected to be formally sent to the European Parliament in the next few weeks for the Second Reading stage of the co-decision procedure. I understand that the incoming Presidency is aiming to achieve final agreement on the REACH Regulation in Second Reading with the European Parliament.
REACH will introduce stringent registration measures, which will affect all manufacturers of chemicals, commercial users of chemicals and importers of chemicals. It will also provide valuable information with regard to any health and environmental effects of chemicals. In addition, REACH will provide for restrictions to be placed on the marketing and use of any chemical substance considered to pose a risk to human health or the environment. In regard to authorisation, REACH will provide for a system of control for certain substances of very high concern, such as CMRs (Carcinogens, Mutagens and substances toxic to Reproduction), PBTs (substances that are Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic), vPvBs (substances that are very Persistent very Bioaccumulative), and other substances causing equivalent effects such as certain endocrine disrupters. Authorisations would be granted per individual use, so there would be no blanket authorised use of such a substance. The aim [Article 54] of the authorisation provisions is to ensure the good functioning of the internal market while assuring that the risks from substances of very high concern are properly controlled and that these substances are eventually replaced by suitable alternative substances or technologies where these are economically and technically viable. To support this aim, all applicants for authorisations will be obliged to provide an analysis of alternatives considering their risks and the technical and economical feasibility of substitution. Furthermore, authorisations will be subject to time-limited review. Authorisation is automatic, once the use of a substance can be adequately controlled.
Ireland supported the EU Commission’s proposed approach of granting an authorisation where the applicant had demonstrated adequate control in accordance with the requirements set out in an Annex to the Regulation, and this approach was agreed by the EU Council of Ministers last December. Irish technical experts advised that those requirements are already extremely demanding and that, in practice, it would only be possible to demonstrate adequate control of substances of very high concern in very few cases. This would effectively mean that there is minimal risk associated with a substance.
Mandatory substitution brings with it the practical difficulties of finding and evaluating available alternatives; the time taken to find out if another substance is suitable for a particular process; the possible necessity of extensive technological investment; the validation or qualification of the new substance or process; the potential consequences if the alternative substance turns out to be unsuitable for the particular use or process, which might result in workplace accident or an inferior final product, or which might later be discovered to be more hazardous than the original one based on emerging evidence. The European Parliament First Reading amendment proposals which are aimed at imposing authorisation provisions stricter than those provided in the EU Council of Ministers’ common position are unrealistic and Ireland will vigorously resist any attempts to introduce these in the Second Reading, as I am sure will many other EU Member States.
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