In court: October 2015

30th September 2015

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Water ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Environment Agency



A round-up of the latest environmental court cases.

EU court adopts stricter interpretation of REACH

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has endorsed a stricter interpretation of the European REACH Regulation (1907/2006) on the concentrations in products - called "articles" in the legislation - of chemical substances that are likely to pose a high risk to human health or the environment.

Substances are classed as being of "very high concern" if they contain carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic properties. REACH requires producers and importers of products containing such chemical substances in a concentration above 0.1% of its mass to notify the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Suppliers of such a substance must inform the recipient and, on request, the consumer. The European commission, in a 2011 note to member states, and the guidance from the ECHA state that if a substance of very high concern is incorporated in an article, the duty to notify applies only if the quantity exceeds 0.1% of the entire product.

Five member states and Norway disagreed with this interpretation, believing it did not provide enough protection for human health or the environment. France adopted a stricter view, requiring producers and importers to give notification if the substance threshold was reached for any articles in a product containing more than one element. The Fédération des entreprises du commerce et de la distribution and Fédération des magasins de bricolage et de l'aménagement de la maison argued against this requirement.

The French courts referred the case to the CJEU. In its judgment, the court noted that REACH defines an article as "an object, which during production is given a special shape, surface or design which determines its function to a greater degree than does its chemical composition". It also said the regulation does not contain any provisions specifically governing complex products that contain several articles. As a result, the CJEU concluded that there was no need to distinguish between when articles are incorporated as a component of a product and when they are present but isolated. It ruled, therefore, that each of the articles incorporated as a component of a product is covered by the relevant duties to notify and provide information when they contain a substance of very high concern in a concentration above 0.1% of their mass.

Tess Crean, toxics expert at the NGO ClientEarth, said the judgment would protect people and the planet by improving information about the use of toxics in toys, bottles and bicycles, for example. "Until this ruling, dangerous chemicals could have been used in everyday products, and we may not have known," she said.

South West Water fined £45,000

Breaching environmental controls at a sewage treatment plant in Devon has cost South West Water almost £51,000.

The company had pleaded guilty earlier at Exeter Crown Court to breaching discharge limits at its treatment plant at Dunkeswell, near Honiton, between May 2013 and May 2014. Taunton Crown Court fined the firm £45,000, with costs of £5,700 and a £240 victim surcharge. The court was told of five occasions when waste from the site exceeded its permit limits and entered a nearby stream. Environment Agency officer Mischka Hewins said: "There were ongoing problems with sludge rising in the settlement tank, which were specifically raised on over 19 occasions and led to knock-on problems with the filters. The inlet screen, which is of fundamental importance to the site, was also not working." The court took into account the frequent number of visits the company paid to the site, and the steps it had taken to rectify problems.

US court rules against pesticide

The US ninth circuit court of appeals has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal law when it approved a pesticide that campaigners claim damages bees. The court ruled that the agency's decision to unconditionally register sulfoxaflor was based on flawed and limited data. It said that annulling the agency's unconditional registration was preferable to leaving it in place because of the risk of further environmental harm.


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