DETR begins work on chemicals strategy

Drafting of a new strategy for the sustainable use of chemicals has been initiated by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR).

The first hint of the Government's plans for a chemicals strategy was given in a speech by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in June. After noting that there is "much public concern" about substances such as PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and endocrine disruptors, he said: "the time is ripe for stepping back a pace and developing a more strategic overview of the whole question of chemicals in the environment, within the framework of the sustainable use of chemicals."

The DETR held its first meeting with other Departments to discuss their ideas for the strategy in July. It intends to bring in external stakeholders' views at a workshop in the autumn before issuing a draft of the strategy for wider consultation next February. The finished version is due next summer.

The Department of the Environment had a stab at formulating a chemicals strategy three years ago with a discussion paper on ways of reducing diffuse inputs of hazardous chemicals to the environment (ENDS Report 230, pp 37-38 ). However, this was thin on both strategic vision and detail, and made no apparent impact on policy.

The DETR expects the new strategy to set down what the Government is already doing to control chemical hazards in the environment and give an exposition of its approach to controlling emerging chemical risks, including a discussion of possible new policy tools.

This time, however, the DETR will also tackle directly the major public issues in chemicals policy. Officials expect the strategy to spell out the Government's views on the current controversies over chlorine and PVC, as well as dioxins, endocrine disruptors and possibly heavy metals.

The perception that products are becoming more important sources of chemical hazards as releases from industry are reduced, and the desirability of assessing the hazards posed by particular chemicals on a life-cycle basis, are emerging themes in environmental policy. Both featured prominently in the recent report of Sweden's Chemicals Policy Commission (ENDS Report 269, pp 21-25 ), and are likely to do so in the UK strategy. The DETR may also explore how pioneering efforts within the chemical industry to apply the concept of eco-efficiency could be developed to control chemical hazards.

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