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DG Environment's Bjorn Hansen Highlights Importance of Worldwide Chemical Industry Goals during Helsinki Chemicals Forum 2013


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The challenges of getting a regulation defined and then drafted are epitomized by the US's approach to the TSCA reform with the controversy over the upcoming Chemical Safety Act that will replace it.  Take that challenge and multiply it many times when looking at chemical safety regulations implemented and drafted by other nations; some are similar, some very different.  With today's global economy, no nation is exempt from another country's regulations.

The fifth Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) was the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) forum for presenting topics related to REACH, the European Union (EU) regulation designed to oversee chemicals in the EU.  This year HCF 2013 was held at the Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre from 18-19 June 2013.

2020 Goals Focus on Global Chemical Issues

The conference kicked off with a general discussion of 2020 goals.  The European Commission's Bjorn Hansen, DG Environment Head, gave an energetic and engaging presentation that illustrated the importance of the chemical industry worldwide, evidenced not only by sales of some $2,744B Euros annually.  "This represents the fact that there is basically nothing we buy or use, just about every product contains or uses chemicals in their production," he stated.  "So the impact on humans and the environment is important.  In the hypothetical world, we would all like to work in a pristine environment.  But we need to determine what pollution levels are acceptable."

He pointed out that there are regulatory trends that keep moving the bar, such as the new endocrine disruptors directive that has moved from being a scientific issue to a regulatory concern.  

Hansen also addressed key REACH issues, summarizing "innovation is key to long-term success and the ability to focus on our chemicals knowledgebase concerning exposure and toxicity so that we can design chemicals that address these concerns."  

Sound International Chemical Management

From this broad overview, the presentations that followed continued to focus on very specific concerns such as how to drive the sound international management of chemicals; the growing issue regarding not just raw materials but chemicals in products; the challenges surrounding regulation of nano-materials; the increasing number of lists of chemicals of concern that vary worldwide; and, the effects of chemical combinations upon not just people but the environment.

One very interesting challenge is the growing realization of hazardous chemicals as pollutants and the understanding that just because a substance has been delivered to a waste management site does not eliminate it from existence.  Thus chemical management encompasses not just chemical management within a research facility, but also what happens to any leftover substances after research is complete.

"One of the challenges is understanding the long-range impact of chemicals in the environment," explained Dr. Martin Kayser, Senior Vice President of Product Safety at BASF AG. "We still don't know all the details about this other than 'Oh, it can't be good.' Thus the goal is to minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment."

"In my industry's view," stated Michael Walls, Vice President of the American Chemistry Council, "a substance's true priorities for regulation ought to be identified on the basis of risk.  And we ought to be communicating that basis for identifying those substances to the public as well.  So it's not just the fact that a substance poses a hazard, but does it's use in a process or a product pose a real risk to health for example, and if so then what are we going to do about it?"

These questions and more were discussed in detail during the various panel discussions throughout the two-day conference.

Next year, the Helsinki Chemicals Forum will be held from 22-23 May 2014 in Helsinki, Finland

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