Environmental groups yesterday called for the establishment of an independent chemical safety department to improve government supervision of toxic chemicals.
Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan said the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has proposed amending the Toxic Chemical Substances Control Act (毒性化學物質管理法) to include the EU’s regulations on chemical substances and their safe use, covering the more than 64,000 chemicals used in Taiwan, based on last year’s figures.
The EU regulation, which is known as REACH, deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances.
REACH entered into force on June 1, 2007, and it requires firms to be responsible for assessing and managing the risks that the chemical substances found in their products may have on human health and on the environment. The companies are also responsible for providing appropriate safety information to their customers.
Non-governmental environmental organizations said they supported the government’s decision to classify the act as a priority bill in the current legislative session.
However, they questioned how the proposed “toxic chemical substances management division” under the new ministry of environment and natural resources could have a staff of only six people.
Such a low number, they said, could not possibly handle the registration and evaluation work for thousands of chemical substances in accordance with the planned regulations.
The EPA currently has only 298 chemical substances listed under its watch, which is not enough to safeguard public health, the groups said.
Researcher Tsai Chung-yueh (蔡中岳) said that if the bill is passed, companies would have to register all the chemical substances used in their products before they are introduced into the market for public consumption.
The five people currently working at the EPA’s toxic substance control division or the planned six-member staff under the new ministry would not be enough to deal with such a heavy task.
Herlin Hsieh (謝和霖) of the Taiwan Watch Institute warned that many consumer products also contain chemicals that may cause health risks, such as hair dyes, products with skin-whitening properties and face masks.
The groups said an independent department staffed with sufficient personnel and an ample budget is needed if the government really wants to implement REACH regulations.