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13 September 2001


Commissioner refuses any extended ban to octa-BDE and deca-BDE prior to EU risk assessment conclusions


Verbatim Extract from European Parliament Plenary Sitting of 5 September 2001 on the "Marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations (pentabromodiphenyl ether) », prior to the vote on Thursday 6 September 2001.

Byrne, Commission. - Firstly, I would like to express my thanks to Members for their interest in this proposal and especially to Mrs Ries, the rapporteur, for her constructive work.

PentaBDE is a flame retardant used in the production of polyurethane foam for furniture and upholstery. It poses a risk to the environment, is bioaccumulating and has been found in human breast-milk. In response to the findings of a risk assessment under the regulation on the evaluation and control of existing substances, the Commission proposed, in January of this year, a directive banning the marketing and use of pentaBDE.

The Commission’s proposed directive covers all uses of pentaBDE, and articles containing pentaBDE. It is an application of the precautionary principle, given concern about the presence of pentaBDE in breast-milk from unidentified sources.

The costs and benefits of the proposed ban have been carefully analysed. Suitable alternatives, both in technical and economic terms, are available. I would stress that the proposal will not result in greater risks from fires or greater risks to the environment. I believe it is a proportionate measure.

The proposed directive provides not only for the protection of the environment, of consumers’ and workers’ health but would also preserve the Internal Market. It would introduce harmonised rules in the Member States.

The Commission is unable to accept those amendments of the Parliament which would extend the scope of the proposed directive to include bans also on other substances i.e. octaBDE and decaBDE (Amendments No 1, second part of No 2, Nos 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15). These other substances could be the subject of a subsequent proposal of the Commission when risk assessments have been completed and the availability of safe substitutes analysed.

The Commission is also unable to accept the amendments that would introduce bans on octaBDE and decaBDE taking effect from 1 January 2006 if the risk assessments do not conclude that the substances cause no reasons for concern (Amendments 8 and 16). Accordingly, these substances would be totally banned from 2006 if the assessments show concern or they would be left totally unregulated if the assessments show no concern.

The Commission favours a more nuanced approach which would mean that measures could take effect much earlier than 2006. The completion of the risk assessments and analyses of availability of safe substitutes would allow the uses of concern to be identified and appropriate measures to be quickly taken. If necessary, the precautionary principle could be applied to ban such uses. As the assessments are expected to be completed in the autumn of 2001, the chosen measures could be effective well before 2006.

Nor is the Commission able to accept the amendment on procedures for risk assessment under Regulation 793/93 (Amendment No 4). This amendment goes beyond the present proposal to restrict the marketing and use of pentaBDE.

The Commission can accept in principle to delete the derogation on pentaBDE in concentrations of less than 5% in technical grade octaBDE from the ban (first part of Amendment No 2 and Amendment No 5 of the Environment Committee) as new information from producers indicates that octaBDE can be produced without pentaBDE.

To summarise our position, the Commission can accept Amendment No 5. The Commission cannot accept Amendments Nos 1 to 4 and 6 to 16. However, the Commission can, in principle, support the first part of Amendment No 2.

We wish to carry on the dialogue with Parliament and I am convinced we can reach a constructive solution.