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On 16th July 2020, several media outlets around Europe revealed major internal dissensions within the European Commission about the development of the European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, including a leaked annotated draft of the strategy.

Under the European Green Deal, the Department General for Environment (DG ENVI) is leading on the development of the strategy, the publication of which is expected in autumn. Other departments are currently being consulted before European Commissioners adopt the strategy at the end of summer. The leaked document appears to illustrate comments made by representatives of the Department General for Internal Market (DG GROW), which highlight economic interests at the behest of preventive actions on chemicals and public health.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is extremely concerned about the implications of such revelations, which provide a stark picture of the internal Commission dynamics in relation to the development of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. This could hinder the ability of the European Commission to deliver a European Green Deal that puts people’s health at its core – and is putting its own credibility at stake in doing so.

The leaked draft suggests a tendency from parts of the European Commission towards minimising existing scientific evidence about health and environment effects of a significant number of chemicals currently on the European market.

These revelations furthermore suggest that important elements to increase protection levels in chemicals regulations, as demanded by Member States (through the Environment Council and joint Member States initiatives) and the European Parliament in its recently agreed resolution on the strategy, are under attack. This includes:

  • Suggestions to replace the concept of a “toxic-free hierarchy” as the foundation of legislation to allow preventing toxic chemicals in products at the design stage, with a “SMART Regulation” approach, geared towards reducing administrative burdens for companies.
  • Questioning of a six-point action plan to phase out non-essential uses of PFAS.
  • Suggestions to water down a comprehensive framework to address endocrine disruptors, only “considering” to define EDC criteria on food contact materials, cosmetics or food additives, rather than committing to doing so.
  • Opposition to the proposal to introduce a generic mixture assessment factor to address combination effects of chemicals.

In a broader context, these revelations indicate that the future strategy’s potential to overhaul European chemicals regulations to match President Von der Leyen’s commitment towards a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment is already being undermined.

HEAL calls on President Von der Leyen and Vice-President Timmermans to guarantee that the strategy being developed lives up to the Commission’s commitments towards the zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment and improved health. The new strategy must provide an honest picture of the current scientific evidence about all health and environment effects of chemicals, and put forward provisions to effectively address them. This must also include a commitment to respond to the demands put forward by Member States and the European Parliament.  

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