Everybody is talking about essential uses in Brussels, but how can we actually define which chemicals are essential for our society?
Is it essential to use chemical substances that ensure durability for coatings but may be persistent in the environment? Or is it essential to use potentially harmful substances in medical devices if no alternatives are available?
Defining the essential use concept will ultimately mean being able to answer these questions, balancing out the trade-offs between societal needs and environmental or health safety.
Stakeholders are sharing their views on how the concept of essential uses should be defined and used. Yet, there seems to be no agreement so far except for the widespread acknowledgement that the concept is very sensitive and political in nature.
Where does the concept of essential uses come from?
The Montreal Protocol is the basis here. It says that the use of a substance should be qualified as essential only if:
- it is necessary for the health or critical for the functioning of the society
- and, at the same time, there are no alternatives or substitutes
There are no other substantive uses of the concept at the international and European level other than the Montreal Protocol, which therefore will represent a starting point for the current discussions at the EU level.
Where do stakeholders stand?
Civil society is taking a hard stance on essential uses and NGOs are asking the Commission to set unambiguous list of uses considered essential and one of non-essential uses and avoid case-by-case assessments.
The industry on the other hand believes that any assessment of essentiality needs to be done on a case-by-case basis. The concept of essential use should not affect the basis of chemical regulation: risk analysis.
Member States have shared the most diverse positions. While they all agree that a framework of criteria to assess essentiality would be needed, they have diverging opinions regarding the political and strategic objectives that need to be factored in.
The Commission has made clear that it will develop a set of criteria to assess the uses of substances in specific applications on a case by case basis. However, the content of these criteria is not at all clear at this stage.
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December 8, 2021
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