23 December 2003 10:02 [Source: ICIS news]
The industry has to keep a close eye on what is being proposed in Brussels with the European Union’s Scale (science, children, awareness, legislation and evaluation) project.
Similar issues are being addressed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and others and children’s health can never be anything else but of paramount concern. However, the industry internationally has to tread carefully.
There are ideas being talked about now that move beyond the realms of rational science. Scale particularly has raised the spectre of decisions being made against concerns that somehow “cocktails” of chemicals have a decided impact on our health and well-being.
That may well be the case in a modern world in which individuals are exposed to a wide range of substances that they would not have been hitherto. Also, the old adage that the dose makes the poison in certain circumstances may not apply.
Nevertheless, if a debate is to be joined seriously and if a legislative outcome is the aim, then everyone involved has to be sure of their ground. The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) makes the valid point that a validated, risk based approach is the key. There are big public health issues under consideration here and the EU particularly has to be sure of its ground.
The chemical industry cannot but support Scale but it rightly feels that the current focus and time constraints may compromise its effectiveness. A European environment and health monitoring system that can generate health trend data to assess the multi-factorial nature of disease-causation is a good idea.
However, Cefic is concerned about the timeframe and narrow priorities set for Scale by the European Commission (EC). Scale as it stands is ambitious but speed may compromise its ability to meet its objectives.
Cefic feels that unless Scale takes an holistic approach that addresses the full range of physical, biological, socio-economic and life-style factors in the proposed harmonised monitoring and response system, it will fail. In other words, the necessary information to make effective public health decisions will not be amassed.
Set against that, however, is an acceptance of a Scale type approach and that a working plan can be agreed if adequate time is given towards a scientifically rigorous and fully comprehensive output.
In a multi-stakeholder world there is no reason why decision-making has to be rushed. Scale has a relatively tight agenda but it is time that this is relaxed to allow science to speak more strongly. Internationally, the scale of the problem has to be defined and objectives clearly set.
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