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Huge new health benefits claimed for REACH

Environment DailyOct. 19, 2005

Implementing the EU's Reach chemical policy will yield much larger occupational health benefits than previously thought, scientists commissioned by Europe's trade union movement have claimed. Even in the first ten years these benefits alone could exceed the entire cost of implementation, the scientists say.

The research was unveiled in the European parliament on Monday at a meeting organised by EU trade union body Etuc and hosted by Guido Sacconi, the assembly's rapporteur for Reach. Mr Sacconi stressed the importance of safeguarding workers' health and said it was essential that Reach was not weakened.

Carried out at the University of Sheffield, the research breaks new ground by focusing on how far Reach, as proposed by the European Commission in 2003, will avoid skin and respiratory diseases other than cancer, including dermatitis and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease.

Previous studies have focused more on cancers, study co-author Simon Pickvance told Environment Daily. Whereas these tend to emerge over a long time period, the diseases now looked at appear more quickly, he said.

In the first ten years of Reach, the study calculates the benefits for avoidance of these diseases at $.77-$7.3bn, with a midpoint estimate of around $4.12bn. Over a longer, 30-year period, it puts the benefits at $24.7-$189.7bn, with a midpoint of around $106bn.

In contrast, the European Commission reckons Reach will cost $3.3-$6.1bn to implement over 15 years. The main previous estimate of Reach's health benefits, carried out for the commission by consultancy RPA, is $31.8bn over 30 years.

The scientists used new methods to calculate the incidence of three diseases related to workplace exposure to chemicals. They then estimated the proportion that will be avoided by implementing Reach. For asthma, for example, they expect Reach to avoid 50% of relevant cases, or 40,000 per year. Finally, they monetised the benefits of this avoidance.

The benefits will be felt by very large numbers of workers in many chemical using sectors, Mr Pickvance told Environment Daily, not just industrial operations such as car spraying, but also all users of cleaning products. Many millions of people across Europe are therefore involved, he said.

It was "impossible" at this stage to say whether amendments simplifying Reach that look set to be adopted by EU governments and MEPs would significantly affect the estimates, Mr Pickvance added.

Follow-up: Etuc, tel: +32 2 224 0411, and the study.


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