Most studies on the draft REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) have focused on the costs to the economy of imposing stricter controls on chemical manufacturers,including on downstream users of chemicals in other industrial sectors. But few have explored the possible long-term benefits of REACH in reducing potential chemical threats to the environment as these are less easily quantifiable.
The aim of this latest study, prepared by independent researchers and published on 15 February 2006, is to assess the benefits of REACH on the environment and to humans who are exposed to chemicals via the environment. It therefore excludes direct exposure of consumers as well as worker exposure, which has already been analysed in a separate study (EurActiv, 20 Oct. 2005).
The bitter row over the expected costs of REACH was officially ended in April last year with the publication of a further impact assessment (EurActiv, 27 Apr. 2005). The report had seemingly brought an end to the dispute after some 36 other impact studies were evaluated by EU and national experts under the Dutch Presidency (EurActiv, 2 Nov. 2004).
The long-standing dispute over the potential costs and benefits of the REACH proposal was given fresh momentum with the publication on 15 February of an impact study by independent researchers.
The study _ carried out at the request of the Commission’s environment directorate by research and consultancy firm DHI Water & Environment – concludes that REACH would save a minimum of €150-500 million by the year 2017, at the expected close of its 11-year roll-out period. By the year 2041, the savings would add up to €8.9 billion, mostly in areas such as “purification of drinking water, disposal of dredged sediment and incineration of sewage instead of disposal on farmlands”.
The estimates were calculated using what the researchers say is the most robust available data and “well-documented cases of costs” in combination with an assumption that “the potential benefit of REACH would be only at 10%” of total costs”.
Less reliable scenarios were considered as well, one based on consumers willingness to pay for cleaner drinking water or for avoiding the health effects of chemical pollution, in particular cancer. Another extrapolated findings from past experience with well- known substances which are now restricted (trichlorobenzene, nonylphenol and tetrachloroethylene), to avoid similar mistakes. But the results obtained were judged too uncertain.
“We are pleased that another study confirms the enormous benefit that REACH would carry,” the Commission environment spokesperson, Barbara Helfferich, told EurActiv. “It confirms the extended impact assessment we did back in 2003,” she added. However, she cautions that no single study can give a full picture. “The baseline, she added, is still the [Commission’s] extended impact assessment.”
The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) said it welcomes the study’s aim to assess the benefits of REACH “as it is important to establish as complete a picture as possible of the potential impacts of REACH […] before legislative decisions are made.”
However, CEFIC draws attention to uncertainties in the study. “Calculations are based on historical data, which cannot be directly applied to estimate the future impact,” it points out. For example, it says the study fails to take into account “the constant progress of environmental technology” or the impact of legislation currently being enforced at national or regional level.
“Even the results of what is claimed as the most robust approach therefore remain highly questionable,” CEFIC claims. “The present debate on REACH has advanced well beyond comparison of costs and benefits; what is needed now are practical solutions to problems that have been identified,” it says.
Environmental campaigners at Greenpeace claim that the combined cost savings in the study shows REACH “could bring extra environmental benefits worth up to €95 billion over 25 years”. This sum, says Greenpeace, would “come on top of the expected €50 billion in health cost savings over 30 years identified by the Commission in 2003, when it launched the REACH proposal.”
Nadia Haiama of Greenpeace European Unit said “much greater benefits would follow if the proposal were extended to include mandatory substitution of hazardous chemicals and if it obliged producers to supply full safety information on their substances.”
In a briefing paper, the WWF stresses that 50 billion euros in environmental benefits over 25 years identified in the DHI study come “in addition to the 50 billion health benefits over 30 years already identified by the Commission when its proposal was published”.
Since the first version of the REACH proposal was submitted in October 2003, a row has pitted industry experts against environmentalists and trade unions over the potential costs and benefits of REACH. The row was officially ended in April last year with the publication of an additional impact study done by KPMG for the European chemical industry council (CEFIC) and business organisation UNICE (EurActiv, 27 Apr. 2005).
To the surprise of NGOs, who had criticised the methodology as being biased in favour of industry, the KPMG study confirmed the Commission’s own extended impact assessment, published along with the initial REACH proposal in 2003.
At the time, Enterprise Commissioner Verheugen and Environment Commissioner Dimas, said that the new study did not add much to the debate as it confirmed most of the Commission’s own assessment. The first Commission estimates evaluated the costs of REACH at around €2.3 bn over 11 years or 0.05% of the annual turnover of the sector.
Commission (DG Environment): Study on the assessment of the impact of REACH on the environment and human health Executive summary Full report (15 Feb. 2006)
Commission (DG Environment): Fact sheet on REACH
Commission (DG Enterprise): Extended impact assessment of REACH SEC (2003) 1171/3 (29 Oct. 2003)
Commission (DG Enterprise): Extended impact assessment of the new chemicals policy
EU Actors positions
WWF: Commission says REACH could bring further environmental benefits of up 50 billion euros over 25 years (16 Feb. 2006)
WWF: Briefing on DG ENV study, Benefits of REACH (Feb. 2006)
European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC): New study on benefits of REACH lacks certainty and concrete proposals (16 Feb. 2006)
Greenpeace: New REACH benefits study shows potential extra €95 billion in savings (15 Feb. 2006)
UN agrees global strategy for safer chemicals (09 February 2006)
Ministers soft on substitution rules for dangerous chemicals (14 December 2005)
EU unsure about replacing dangerous chemicals (01 December 2005)
Chemical sector defines future research agenda (28 November 2005)
Concerns over chemical contamination of baby milk (25 November 2005)
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