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Helsinki Chemicals Forum 2013

Experts discuss safety, legislation

2:08 PM MDT | June 28, 2013 | —Michael Ravenscroft in Helsinki

Helsinki Forum: Balancing regulation with innovation was among the meeting’s primary themes.

The 5th Helsinki Chemicals Forum, held 18–19 June, assessed policy direction for global chemical safety and legislation. Sessions addressed 2020 goals and the international management of chemicals, chemicals in products, the regulation of nanomaterials, the listing of chemicals of concern, and combination effects.

Primary themes of the meeting included development of common standards and harmonization; sharing the workload of collecting and sharing information; avoiding duplication; reducing the burden on industry; the need for transparency and clarity; the importance of and need for communication—among agencies, with industry, and with the public; balancing regulation with innovation; and the globalization of regulation. The European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (Reach) program formed a reference point for discussion related to regulations.

“Every country has to identify which chemicals it wants to regulate. Common standards for hazards, risks, risk assessment, and management would allow us to share the work. We would ultimately be directly benefiting from work done elsewhere for our purposes as well,” said Geert Dancet, executive director at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA; Helsinki).

2020 and chemical management

One goal states, in part, that “by 2020, chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment,” as stated at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

“Reach can help countries develop their own chemical management system[s] without great cost, without repeating errors,” said Baskut Tuncak, staff attorney at the Center for International Environment Law (Geneva).

“We will achieve the 2020 goal; nobody can doubt that,” said Bjorn Hansen, unit head in the environment directorate general of the European Commission. “We can help other countries build their own chemical management system[s]—not-one-size-fits-all, but what is appropriate for that country.”

“The 2020 goal is a moving target. We have to think even beyond 2030. The goals can be reached, but will have to be updated,” said Martin Kayser, global head of product safety at BASF.

Chemicals in products

The challenge is how to best address substances in articles from a regulatory perspective. “Regulatory control is high for chemicals, such as pesticides, but low for articles,” said Nina Cromnier, director general at the Swedish Chemicals Agency (Sundbyberg).

“We need improved rules for chemicals in consumer products,” said Christina Rudén, professor of regulatory toxicology and ecotoxicology at Stockholm University.

Regulation of nanomaterials

Should nanomaterials be treated differently from other substances? Nanomaterials are much more common than public discussion seems to reflect. “Chemicals are increasingly being used in nano form, but 99% of nanomaterials are well-known and have been in use for decades,” said Rudolf Weinand, v.p./safety, inorganic materials at Evonik Industries.

Opinion in the panel discussion was divided, between whether nanomaterials are covered adequately by existing regulation or whether additional regulation is required. Industry supports the commission’s view that Reach covers nanomaterials, whereas some panelists believe that this is not the case and that Reach needs to be adapted.

Listing chemicals of concern

Many countries around the world are now developing their own lists of chemicals of concern. “What are the strengths of these lists? Are there overlaps or gaps? What is the degree of consistency?” asked Andreas Herdina, director of cooperation at ECHA. “Is harmonization of these lists desirable or possible?”

“There is a perception that candidate listing (CL) is a ban,” said Jack de Bruijn, director of risk management at ECHA. “Better communication is key. The CL does seem to drive innovation for alternative substances,” de Bruijn said.

“China’s efforts are just starting—initially [having] concentrat[ed] on posttreatment of pollutants, but now shifting to source elimination,” said Yunbo Shi, managing director at the Chemical Inspection and Regulation Service (Drogheda, Ireland).

Combination effects

“Combination scenarios are complex,” said moderator Derek Knight, senior scientific advisor at ECHA.

“It is important to move from [the] assessment of single chemicals to an assessment of real-world exposure to multiple chemicals,” said Rikke Donchil Holmberg, senior advisor at the Danish Ministry of Environment.

“From the panel discussion on the 2020 goals and the sound international management of chemicals, it is evident that much progress has been made; however, in measuring success it should be acknowledged that the goals are a moving target due to the complexity of the information on chemicals and emerging challenges,” said Jukka Malm, regulatory affairs director at ECHA.

The Helsinki Chemicals Forum is organized by the Chemicals Forum Association in cooperation with ECHA, the commission, Cefic, and the Finnish government. Forum partners include the city of Helsinki, the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland, and the University of Helsinki.

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