As news of the ministerial agreement on Reach filtered through to Strasbourg, MEPs have reacted with dismay.

As news of the ministerial agreement on Reach filtered through to Strasbourg, where the European Parliament was in session, MEPs reacted with dismay to what they saw as a weakening of the regime.

Swedish MEP Lena Ek, spokeswoman on Reach for the Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, said it appeared that all of the Parliament’s major amendments had been rejected by ministers.

Due to the discarding of Strasbourgamendments committing the EU to the substitution principle, she said, ’dangerous chemicals, such as carcinogenic substances and substances that are toxic for reproduction, can continue to be used even if there are safer alternatives.’ 

On freedom of information issues, she said, consumers would ’lose the right to know whether a dangerous chemical is present in a product’; the duty of care that MEPs wanted to impose on industry had been ’abandoned’, and ministers had missed an opportunity to simplify the regulatory burden on smaller producers.

British MEP Chris Davies, environmental spokesman for the European Liberals group, echoed NGO concerns that Reach will be weakened in health protection terms if the Parliament fails at second reading to restore a firm commitment to the substitution principle. 

’By rejecting our demands that chemicals of very high concern should be replaced by safer alternatives, whenever possible, ministers have torn the guts out of Parliament’s plans to protect consumers,’ he said. 

The European Commission’s assessment of the agreement was more upbeat, underscoring that even in its modified form, Reach would ’ensure that gaps in existing information on the hazardous properties of some 30 000 chemicals are filled and that the necessary information on the safe use of substances is transmitted along the industrial supply chain leading to reduced risks for workers, for consumers, and for the environment’.

Industry Commissioner  G?nter Verheugen issued a statement reiterating that he views the ministerial agreement as ’a reasonable compromise’ that makes Reach ’more effective and workable’ while maintaining the competitiveness of EU industry. The agreement, he said, ’puts an end to a long period of uncertainty for [those in] industry and helps them plan for the very challenging task of meeting the new requirements’. Arthur Rogers