Friends of the Earth, The European Environmental Bureau and Greenpeace today criticised the EU's lack of leadership at the WHO European Regional Conference in Budapest.
The organisations hit out at the European Commission for failing to take a strong position by setting clear measurable targets for protecting the environment and human health.
The Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, `The Future for our Children', focuses on ensuring a healthier environment for children. The Conference focuses on exposure to hazardous chemicals alongside other topics such as water and sanitation, transport and air pollution. Two policy documents have been prepared for adoption - the Ministerial Declaration and the Children's Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE), but they fall short of ambitious aims to protect this vulnerable group in society. Last week a report in the Lancet revealed that one in three child deaths in Europe is due to environmental factors.
Environmental groups are disappointed by the European Commission's very weak input into the final text. The proposed European Environment & Health Action Plan 2004-2010 does not foresee any legislative action and misses the opportunity to support the upcoming European legislation (REACH Regulation) on chemicals by providing common monitoring and indicators of as yet unregulated or poorly understood chemicals which accumulate in childrens bodies or potentially affect their development.
Friends of the Earth chemicals campaigner Karine Pellaumail said: "European children need firm action to protect their health, not more research. These proposals will do little to tackle continued exposure to hazardous chemicals in everyday products, despite mounting concerns about the effect they may have on the most vulnerable members of society. The Commission must put the health of our children above the interests of industry and bring in tough new regulations on the use of chemicals."
"The European Environment and Health strategy could be an excellent place to set indicators and monitoring for priority chemicals to be controlled under REACH, the future EU chemicals regulation" Stefan Scheuer from the European Environmental Bureau commented. "But, instead, the European Commission prefers to listen to self-interested stories from the chemicals industry rather than to propose action to protect children from chemical contamination."
"The European Environment and Health strategy potentially undermines the important principles on shifting the burden of proof to industry as established by the Commission's REACH regulation proposals"' said Nadia Haiama-Neurohr of Greenpeace.
Reducing the risk of disease and disability arising from exposure to hazardous chemicals was one of the four Priority Goals set in the Budapest Ministerial declaration. Anja Leetz, Chemical Reaction campaigner commented: "EU ministers of health and environment should send a strong signal to policymakers within the EU and the World Health Organisation. If we really want to achieve a safe and healthy environment for our children it is crucial to strengthen REACH, the EU's proposed new chemicals legislation.'
Strengthening European legislation on chemicals is crucial, but there are also measures that retailers should adopt ahead of their introduction to reduce children's chemical exposure. Earlier this month, Friends of the Earth released an extensive survey of 28 major high street retailers on chemicals in everyday products which showed which retailers had taken positive steps to tackle the problem.