European court rules against release of toxic substances data

24th September 2015

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Christopher O'Brien

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has ruled against the public disclosure of information about the volume of hazardous chemicals that are manufactured in Europe or imported to the EU.

In a joint appeal, the environmental law body, ClientEarth, and the NGO, International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec), argued that the REACH Regulation requires the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to disclose the amount of chemicals manufactured or imported.

However, the CJEU ruled in favour of the ECHA, arguing that disclosure could undermine commercial interests. "The authority [ECHA] was entitled to take the view that the disclosure of the precise tonnage of the substances registered would have undermined the commercial interests of the persons concerned," said the court judgment.

ChemSec said it was disappointed at the ruling. "Since we already knew which substances chemical companies produce, disclosing the actual volumes was a logical step forward," said Anne-Sofie Andersson, the NGO's director, who added that the ruling would make it more difficult for investors in chemical companies to make informed decisions.

The court also ruled against a second claim by ClientEarth and ChemSec. The two organisations argued that placing chemical substances on the market would eventually lead to those substances being released to the environment and so was an emission to the environment.

In its judgment, the CJEU stated: "The manufacture of a substance or placing it on the market cannot per se be regarded as the release of that substance into the environment. " The court did, however, acknowledge that placing chemicals on the market may increase that risk.

The ECHA said the CJEU ruling clarified the rules of access to documents on chemical substances. In a statement, the agency said: "The court confirmed that ECHA correctly applied the Aarhus Convention [on access to environmental information] and the REACH Regulation with regard to the data the NGOs requested access to and that it had correctly followed the procedures established for that purpose."

ClientEarth accused the judges of siding with the chemicals industry and claimed that the ECHA was still trying to withhold specific information on the quantity of dangerous chemicals manufactured every year by companies.

"The judges failed to recognise the importance of knowing exactly how much toxics each company produces. We need this information to hold industry to account, to push safer alternatives, and to better protect people from dangerous chemicals," said ClientEarth lawyer Vito Buonsante.


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