December 22, 2015 by David Taylor


DGENV Invited Workshop
Chemicals legislation benefits indicators
Renaissance Hotel Brussels 3rd November 2015

Background

In 2014, the Commission launched a study analysing the cumulative costs of the most relevant EU legislation and policies for the EU chemical industry. The study aims to identify and quantify direct and indirect costs. The EU legislation, subject to analysis, includes chemicals legislation, climate policy, environmental protection, energy policy, competition policy, trade, consumer and health protection, and workers’ safety policies. This study will be followed by another study, to be launched in 2015 that will compare costs with international competitors, and draw conclusions on their impact on the competitiveness of the chemicals sector.

As part of this overall programme a number of specific studies have been initiated focussing on the REACh Regulation. One of these studies: “The calculation of the benefits of chemical legislation on human health and the environment” was the subject of this workshop.

The Commission consultants, Risk Policy Analysts and the Danish Hydraulics Institute, are nearing the conclusion of their study and this workshop was an opportunity to test their interim conclusions on a wider stakeholder group before finalising their report. A group of 37 stakeholders together with 17 EU officials met for a one day meeting in Brussels with representatives of the contractors to listen to their conclusions, comment on the quality of the output and make suggestions for improvement. The programme consisted of a number of formal presentations from the contractors and representative stakeholders, panel discussions and breakout sessions all based on a background paper circulated by the consultants prior to the meeting.

Discussion

The consultants had divided potential indicators into three groups: Output Indicators which relate to the actual deliverable of the legislation e.g. no of substances registered, Result Indicators which represent measures of immediate impact on the target e.g. concentrations of substances in water or tissue and finally Impact Indicators which attempt to measure the effect of the legislation e.g. change in health or ecology due to legislative implementation.There was general agreement that this classification was a sensible approach.

As the accompanying paper show the consultants had identified a number of indicators in each group to assess improvements in both health and environment and had also made an attempt to identify mechaanisms to establish value.

There was a considerable amount of discussion including considerable scepticism about the practicalities of what was being suggested. In addition there was much constructive comment as to improvements that could be made. Some of the key points are shown below:

  • The task may well be impossible because of the enormous difficulties of linking legislative action to environmental or health improvement. There are simply far too many confounding factors for this to be realistic.
  • Concern was expressed that the fact that output indicators are easier to identify and simpler to measure should not be allowed to dominate the key indicators since they were less important than the impact indicators.
  • There was a consensus that some impact indicators could be identified for short term health impacts from occupational exposure but considerable scepticism about indicators for the general population.
  • The use of Water Framework Directive compliance data should be avoided: there were too many confounding factors to attribute changes in biodiversity to legislation and there were rapid and dramatic variations in chemical status caused by advances in analytical science and in the number of priority substances being considered.
  • The consultants need to keep in mind that as the number of assumptions needed for an indicator increase there is a concomitant fall in its credibility.
  • Cost benefit calculations are rarely robust: costs are frequently overestimated, monetising benefits are difficult and not all benefits are capable of being monetised e.g. value of improving information flow in supply chains.
  • Data availability will be challenging and the timescales specified in the project are far too short to be able to detect any improvements, whatever indicator is chosen (with the possible exception of contact skin diseases due to occupational exposure).

The consultants will now take the output of the workshop into consideration in finalising their report.