Theater of Cruelty

REACH – what is it now?

We are increasingly surrounded by chemicals that threaten our health. It should do something about REACH. The danger is that REACH is rescued that gave birth to a mouse.


There is disturbingly little we know about how various chemicals affect the environment around us – and ultimately our own body. Each of us has no opportunity to orientate ourselves in the flood of – partly contradictory – health information. The bodies – public and private – which have the task of notifying about hazardous chemicals, do not have a sound overview of the flood of chemicals. There are also only a few of the chemicals that are known today to have the effects of, especially not the long-term effects on the environment and health.

It has been a long time since it became clear that "old" environmental toxins such as PCBs and DDT are part of Arctic food chains and are collected in birds, animals and people who live there – despite the fact that these chemicals have been used much further south. But also new environmental toxins such as brominated flame retardants accumulate in polar foxes and polar bears.

SV's environmental politicians are affected

Nor do SV politicians manage to turn away from the chemical environment. This emerged when SV Deputy Head Henriette Westhrin, now Secretary of State in the Ministry of the Environment, and Ingvild Vaggen Malvik, environmentally committed parliamentary representative for the SV, got blood test for 94 different environmental toxins by Professor Terje Sagvolden last fall. The professor found 22 environmental toxins in the blood of Henriette Westhrin and 27 in Ingvild Vaggen Malvik.

The World Wilderness Fund conducted the same test on 13 EU environment ministers, and compared to them, the two SV politicians had lower values ​​of PCBs, chlorinated pesticides and plastic softeners (phthalates) in their blood. That is the advantage of having grown up and lived in a relatively dispersed country.

On the other hand, they had a lot more of brominated flame retardants, a substance that has been getting more and more attention because it is so called endocrine disruptor. It is a substance found in panel ovens, PCs, mobile phones, clothing and furniture. So nightlife is not to be despised, unless one is not afraid of lead contaminated drinking water in the streams after elk and grouse hunting for decades.

The silent spring

From time to time, the health authorities warn that smaller fish and mussels must be eaten when local pollution becomes too high. Mercury and some other heavy metals can cause birth defects, and increasing cancer rates are likely to be related to the overall burden of increasing numbers of environmental toxins.

Half a hundred years ago, Rachel Carson lit a fire torch with the book about "the silent spring" – a spring where the birdsong dies down. To this day, there are no systematic countermeasures against this development.

But four years ago, the EU launched a comprehensive effort to put in place schemes that can provide a better overview of which chemical compounds the industry releases on us, which are most worrying for our health and for the environment in Europe – and how to can get rid of the chemicals that are most problematic.

The name is REACH

The scheme is called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) and was put on the EU agenda through a white paper from the EU Commission in 2001. A first draft law was presented in May 2001 and a reduced version in October the same year. REACH has triggered a fierce debate in which the chemical group opposes environmentalists and health authorities. (See previous issue of Ny Tid)

REACH means creating so-called HSE data sheets for all chemicals that are sold, ie a brief information on health, environmental and safety conditions addressed to the users of the substance.

If more than one tonne per year of the substance is produced or imported, it must be registered in a central register (Chemicals Agency). The registration requires the manufacturer or importer to explain what effects the substance has (eg in the form of test results), how the substance is labeled and how it should be used to ensure sound safety.

The more, the stricter

The requirements for testing increase the larger quantities that are produced or imported. When the quantity exceeds ten tonnes per year, the manufacturer or importer is required to prepare a more complete Chemical Safety Report (CSR). The report shall account for the safety of employees and consumers, for possible health hazards when handling and using the product – and through indirect impact via environmental effects. It must be explained separately to what extent the substance is broken down in nature and whether it accumulates in increasing concentration upwards in the food chains.

When the quantity exceeds 100 tonnes per year, the substance shall be examined and evaluated by a public body in the country where the substance is manufactured or imported.

Something must be approved before use

Four groups of chemicals require special approval:

  • n carcinogenic chemicals,
  • n chemicals that damage the heirloom or the ability to have healthy children,
  • n chemicals that are not degraded in nature, but accumulate in ever-increasing concentrations in the food chain,
  • n endocrine disrupting chemicals

Such chemicals can only be used if they are approved – regardless of the quantities to be used. It is the EU Commission that approves – but it will be done in collaboration with national authorities.

The battle for REACH

But REACH can be salvaged giving birth to a mouse. The chemical industry in Europe and the United States has blown the war. They scare politicians who are more afraid of lost market shares and rising unemployment than of long-term effects on the environment and health.

Both the European Commission and EU Heads of Government have made efforts to ensure competitiveness at the highest level. The original draft REACH regulation has been weakened in several respects, and it is uncertain what will happen when the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers over the next few months make the final decision on what REACH will be.

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