When EU Member States ask the European Commission for permission to pollute above national limits set in EU law

National governments must not use legal loopholes to hide failure on air quality

Austria, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland and Luxembourg have all asked the European Commission for the limits that should have been met in 2015 to be raised so that they no longer appear to have breached them.

The European Union’s National Emission Ceilings Directive sets absolute caps for the amount of pollution allowed by any one country within a year. These caps are designed to work in tandem with European air quality rules, currently breached in 130 cities in 23 Member States, that should protect citizens by limiting the concentration of pollution of the air we breathe ‘on the street’.

Governments can request exceptions to the national caps for previous years, called ‘inventory adjustments’, if certain circumstances apply. Such moves have been labelled as ‘get out of jail free cards’ because they allow Member States to avoid repercussions for breaching otherwise binding limits.

The requests are criticised in a letter sent to Commissioner Vella today from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), ClientEarth, Transport&Environment, AirClim and the Health and Environment Alliance.

All but one of the requests are made by governments claiming they were unaware of additional emissions from diesel vehicles, only Finland is not asking for an additional allowance for nitrogen oxides (NOx) linked to this source. Germany is singled out in the letter for particular criticism because the country issued the approvals for most of the vehicle models found to be exceeding their limits across Europe.

The letter also points out that it was known that road vehicles were responsible for additional emissions long before the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal broke. It argues that by asking for exceptions now, governments are simply trying to make up for their own policy failures on air quality:

“[National] authorities had much time at their disposal to require carmakers to comply, including mandatory recalls and withdrawal of approvals to take the polluting vehicles off the road. Had the authorities of Germany, France, Spain and Luxembourg… taken action in line with the Euro Standards Regulation, the inventory adjustments – as well as high NOx emissions in those countries – could have been avoided.”

Diesel engines are responsible for vehicle emissions of various pollutants including nitrogen oxides (NOx). These harmful gases contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain and have a damaging effect on human health and the environment, including being linked to a host of respiratory diseases.

The largest single-point sources of NOx pollution in Europe are large industrial plants, particularly coal-fired power stations. In April, Germany unsuccessfully tried to block tighter controls on coal-fired power stations due to the high NOx emissions of German brown coal (lignite) power plants.


There are two crucial EU Directives on air pollution. The Ambient Air Quality Directive set limits for the concentration of certain pollutants in the air we breathe, in any given place. The National Emission Ceiling Directive sets caps, or ‘ceilings’, for the total amounts of certain pollutants to be emitted by each Member State from all land sources combined.

National Emission Ceilings Directive
An updated National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive was adopted in December 2016. Today’s letter concerns breaches of limits set in the previous NEC Directive.

The EEB report ‘Clearing the Air: A Critical Guide to the National Emission Ceilings Directive’, provides a detailed assessment of this Directive and calls on Member States and the European Commission to fully and effectively implement existing air pollution laws and take further steps to protect human health and the environment.

Ambient Air Quality Directive
The limits set in the Ambient Air Quality Directive are currently being exceeded in more than 130 cities in 23 out of the 28 Member States of the EU.

The European Commission published its roadmap for a fitness check of the Ambient Air Quality Directives this week. The document accepts that “significant compliance gaps remain” and that the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines are “in most instances, more stringent than EU air quality standards”.

Read National governments must not use legal loopholes to hide failure on air quality, env-health, July 2017.

Banned pesticides continue to affect toxicity in streams

Sources, occurrence and predicted aquatic impact of legacy and contemporary pesticides in streams

Many toxic pesticides have been banned by the EU, however some can remain in the environment for many decades. Aquatic invertebrates are particularly vulnerable to pesticides, which can alter their feeding behaviour, growth and mobility. New research has found that persistent pesticides can increase toxicity in streams by up to 10 000 times compared to the residues of currently used pesticides. The researchers recommend these be taken into account when calculating overall toxicity.

Study Highlights

  • Findings comprised a range of contemporary and banned legacy pesticides in streams.
  • Groundwater is a significant pathway for some herbicides entering streams.
  • Legacy pesticides increased predicted aquatic toxicity by four orders of magnitude.
  • Sediment-bound insecticides were identified as the primary source for ecotoxicity.
  • Stream monitoring programs should include legacy pesticides to assess impacts.


Banned pesticides continue to affect toxicity in streams, Science for Environment Policy, 12 January 2017.

Sources, occurrence and predicted aquatic impact of legacy and contemporary pesticides in streams, science direct, February 2015.

We couple current findings of pesticides in surface and groundwater to the history of pesticide usage, focusing on the potential contribution of legacy pesticides to the predicted ecotoxicological impact on benthic macroinvertebrates in headwater streams. Results suggest that groundwater, in addition to precipitation and surface runoff, is an important source of pesticides (particularly legacy herbicides) entering surface water. In addition to current-use active ingredients, legacy pesticides, metabolites and impurities are important for explaining the estimated total toxicity attributable to pesticides. Sediment-bound insecticides were identified as the primary source for predicted ecotoxicity. Our results support recent studies indicating that highly sorbing chemicals contribute and even drive impacts on aquatic ecosystems. They further indicate that groundwater contaminated by legacy and contemporary pesticides may impact adjoining streams. Stream observations of soluble and sediment-bound pesticides are valuable for understanding the long-term fate of pesticides in aquifers, and should be included in stream monitoring programs.

162 chemical substances shortlisted by the European Chemicals Agency for possible regulatory action

Image credit ECHA, shows what EU action has been taken since previous screenings of substances

Helsinki, 12 January 2017 – The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has selected 162 substances from REACH registrations for further scrutiny by the Member State competent authorities in its annual IT screening exercise. The competent authorities will carry out a manual examination of the dossiers they prioritise to decide whether regulatory action is needed.

The selection is based on an automated IT screening focusing on substances with potential carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction (CMR), persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT), endocrine-disrupting, sensitising or specific target organ toxicity following repeated exposure (STOT RE) properties.

Potential substances with these hazardous properties were then further prioritised based on uses that are likely to lead to exposure to humans or release to the environment. The Member State competent authorities will select substances from the shortlist for their manual examination.

If your company has registered one of substances now shortlisted, you will receive a letter from ECHA informing of the potential examination of your registration(s). We encourage you to update your dossiers to address any shortcomings as soon as possible. Up-to-date information will help the Member State authorities better assess whether the concern indicated by the screening is confirmed, and whether regulatory action is still needed.

You are also invited to a webinar taking place on 14 February. In this webinar, you will get more details about the screening process. You will also have the opportunity to ask questions from ECHA’s staff.

If the Member States or ECHA take actions on your substance, this information will be published on the Agency’s website, for example, in the list of substances potentially subject to compliance checks, the Registry of Intentions (RoI), the draft Community rolling action plan for substance evaluation, and the the Public Activities Coordination Tool (PACT). You can check the status of your substance through the Search for chemicals available on ECHA’s homepage.

ECHA does not make the list of shortlisted substances public as it is purely based on automated selection by IT and manual verification is needed to confirm a potential concern.


ECHA and the Member State competent authorities conduct IT and manual screening annually as part of the common screening approach. The aim is to identify substances that pose a risk for human health or the environment and take them forward to the most appropriate REACH and CLP processes to ensure their safe use. The common screening approach is part of the SVHC Roadmap to 2020 implementation plan.

The previous three rounds of IT screening have identified altogether 893 substances for further scrutiny. Of those, Member States have examined 581 substances. 78 % required follow-up activities with some substances having more than one outcome. See the feature image above for more information.


BPA among new substances of very high concern

EU names bisphenol-A among new SVHCs

Helsinki, 12 January 2017 – The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has added four new SVHCs to the Candidate List – now containing 173 substances, including BPA – based on proposals by France, Sweden, Germany and Austria, following the SVHC identification process with involvement of the Member State Committee.

The European Chemicals Agency is the driving force among regulatory authorities in implementing the EU’s groundbreaking chemicals legislation for the benefit of human health and the environment as well as for innovation and competitiveness. ECHA helps companies to comply with the legislation, advances the safe use of chemicals, provides information on chemicals and addresses chemicals of concern.

The Candidate List is a list of substances that may have serious effects on human health or the environment. Substances on the Candidate List are also known as “substances of very high concern“. The aim of publishing such a list is to inform the general public and industry that these substances are candidates for possible inclusion in the Authorisation List. Once they are on the Authorisation List, industry will need to apply for permission to continue using the substance after the sunset date.

Regarding bisphenol A (BPA) , the reason for inclusion was : “Toxic for reproduction“(Article 57c).

Companies may have legal obligations resulting from the inclusion of the substance in the Candidate List. These obligations may apply to the listed substance on its own, in mixtures or in articles. In particular, any supplier of articles containing a Candidate List substance above a concentration of 0.1% (weight by weight) has communication obligations towards customers down the supply chain and consumers. In addition, importers and producers of articles containing the substance have six months from the date of its inclusion in the Candidate List (12 January 2017) to notify ECHA. Information on these obligations and related tools are available on the ECHA website.

Endocrine disruptors: EFSA and ECHA outline Guidance plans

How to identify substances with endocrine disrupting properties in pesticides and biocides

EFSA and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have published an outline of the Guidance they are developing on how to identify substances with endocrine disrupting properties in pesticides and biocides.

The outline includes a projected table of contents, as well as a plan of the drafting process, including timelines, responsibilities, consultations with relevant parties and an explanation of how the document will be endorsed.

The Guidance will enable applicants and regulatory authorities to identify endocrine disruptors among chemical substances proposed as pesticides and biocides using hazard-based scientific criteria currently being finalised by EU Member States and the European Commission.

The Guidance is to be drafted by a joint team of scientific staff from ECHA and EFSA, supported by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Minutes of meetings of this drafting group will be published.

Endocrine disruptors: EFSA and ECHA outline Guidance plans, European Food Safety Authority, 20 December 2016.

Additional support to the group will be provided by a specially constituted Consultation Group, which will include members of ECHA’s Endocrine Disruptors Expert Group, and pesticide experts from EU Member States and other stakeholder groups. The drafting group may also consult other scientific bodies, such as EFSA’s Scientific Committee or its Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR) and this panel’s working groups.

A public consultation on the draft Guidance is scheduled for the summer of 2017.

More Information

  • Outline of draft Guidance for the implementation of hazard-based criteria to identify endocrine disruptorsefsa.europa.eu, 16 December 2016.
  • Request from the European Commission, ec.europa.eu, 17/10/2016
  • Minutes of joint EFSA/ECHA/JRC kick-off meeting on endocrine disruptors guidance, efsa.europa.eu.
  • European Commission’s proposed criteria for endocrine disruptors, ec.europa.eu.

Launch of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative

The HBM4EU consortium included lead partners from each of the participating countries, as well as the EEA

A conference to launch the “European Human Biomonitoring Initiative” (HBM4EU) took place on 8 December 2016 in Brussels. It was followed by a half-day stakeholders meeting on 9 December.

HBM4EU is a joint effort of 26 countries and the European Commission, co-funded by Horizon 2020, to coordinate and advance human biomonitoring (HBM) activities in Europe. The stated aim is “to provide better evidence in support of policy making”.

The launch event introduced the initiative and presented some of the key activities to be undertaken. Long-standing HBM activities from programmes outside the European Union, including US, Canada and Japan, were be presented to give participants a perspective on how the EU project fits into the international landscape.

Launch of EU human biomonitoring initiative, env-health, 8 December 2016.

Although 26 countries are involved, biomonitoring will take place in 25 countries, including 22 EU members and three non-members. They are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom. Information on the national organisations participating in the consortium can be found here.

The nine substance groupings that will be the focus of the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative in the first two years (2017-2018) are:

  • phthalates and Hexamoll® DINCH,
  • bisphenols,
  • per-/polyfluorinated compounds,
  • flame retardants,
  • cadmium and chromium,
  • PAHs,
  • aniline family,
  • chemical mixtures,
  • and emerging substances.

A half-day technical consultation took place the following day. It will be the first in a series of more in-depth discussions with stakeholders that accompanies annual work plans. Génon Jensen, HEAL Executive Director spoke at the introductory session on the project and its stakeholder process on: “Human biomonitoring to inform and empower citizens”. This main session was followed by break-out groups on research and stakeholder expectations.

HEAL has become the informal coordinator on human biomonitoring for NGOs working on chemicals because of our long involvement in promoting human biomonitoring for better health and environmental policy. In 2006, HEAL undertook a small-scale biomonitoring programme on mercury, which resulted in health moving to the centre of international discussions on mercury.

More Information

  • The role of human biomonitoring in assessing and managing chemical risks, eea.europa.eu.
  • The initial prioritisation exercise and selected substances, eea.europa.eu.

Concerns about the implications from the presence of harmful flame retardants chemicals in furniture products

Flame retardant free furniture is necessary to ensure protection of human health and the environment

Photo: HEAL’s Lisette van Vliet with Jamie Page, The Cancer Prevention and Education Society (CPES).

Policy Paper PDF.

The Case for Flame Retardant Free Furniture, env-health.org, Brussels, Belgium, 8 September 2016.

HEAL joins a coalition of NGOs to stress concerns about the implications from the presence of harmful flame retardants chemicals in furniture products.

A variety of flammability standards for furniture exist in Europe. Some standards lead to the use of hazardous flame retardants chemicals without providing a demonstrated fire safety benefit. Flame retardants may cause serious harm to human health and the environment, they prevent the EU’s goal of a circular economy and impose a costly burden to furniture producers.

The signatories of this paper share and stress the same concerns about the implications from the presence of harmful flame retardants chemicals (FRs) in furniture products. More effective and less harmful ways to achieve fire safety exist and need to be evaluated.

Increasing evidence shows that an EU-action in favour of flame retardant free furniture is necessary to ensure protection of human health and the environment, and promote competition and fire safety.

The revolving doors between EU Commission and big business

Ask the EU Commission to put public interest before private pockets

Following the high-level appointment of former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to Goldman Sachs, an alliance of pro-transparency NGOs has launched a citizens’ petition demanding stricter rules for ex-EU commissioners’ revolving door moves.

The Influence of Big Business and Lobby Groups in the EU Policy Making

Lobby Land, by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making.

How the food lobby undermines existing laws in the EU

Much-needed measures are vital for tackling Europe’s looming obesity crisis

The food and drink lobby is winning the fight over EU sugar regulation. As Corporate Europe Observatory’s new reportA spoonful of sugar‘ illustrates, existing laws are being undermined and much-needed measures fought off that are vital for tackling Europe’s looming health crisis.

An increasing number of people in Europe are struggling with obesity, heart disease and diabetes linked to excessive sugar consumption. This public health crisis has not stopped trade associations that represent the biggest players in the food and drink industry from resisting regulation at all cost: snacks, drinks, and processed foods that are high in sugar have the highest profit margins.

Food lobby rigs EU sugar laws while obesity and diabetes spiral out of control, corporateeurope, July 28th 2016.

In total, the key trade associations, companies and lobby groups behind sugary food and drinks spend an estimated €21.3 million annually to lobby the European nion.

A spoonful of sugar‘ highlights how, despite rhetoric about addressing the health crisis, industry lobbyists are derailing effective sugar regulation in the European Union.

Their strategies include:
  • Pushing free trade agreements and deregulation drives that undermine existing laws;
  • Exercising undue influence over EU regulatory bodies;
  • Capturing scientific expertise;
  • Championing weak voluntary schemes;
  • Outmaneuvering consumer groups by spending billions on aggressive lobbying.

Health policies like upper limits for sugars in processed foods, sugar taxes, and labels that clearly show added sugars are long overdue. We need lobby transparency and a clear division between the regulators and the regulated. Rules and guidelines that help people make informed and healthier nutrition choices must no longer fall prey to the disproportionate influence of the food and drink industry.

Katharine Ainger, freelance journalist and co-author of Corporate Europe Observatory’s new report, said:

“So many independent scientific studies show a clear link between excessive sugar consumption and serious health risks. But the fact that there is still no consensus on the dangers of sugar among EU regulators proves just how powerful the food and drink lobby is.
Sound scientific advice is being sidelined by the billions of euros backing the sugar lobby. In its dishonesty and its disregard for people’s health, the food and drink industry rivals the tactics we’ve seen from the tobacco lobby for decades.”