Court overrules EC approval of cancer-causing chrome chemicals

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has banned with immediate effect the use of known carcinogens used for road markings and in paints and plastics.

The court’s Tribunal of the EU, which deals with disputes between EU institutions, ruled in the case brought by the Swedish government that an earlier European Commission decision to authorise uses of the chromium VI compounds, lead sulphochromate yellow and lead chromate molybdate red, was unlawful.

Just one company, Canada-based Dominion Colour Corporation (DCC), had applied for EU authorisation to sell pigments containing the two substances for use in road markings, metal paints and industrial plastics.

The European Commission, supported by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), argued that banning the use of these substances would be “disproportionate” considering that concerns over their health and environmental impact could be allayed by simply limiting their use.

DCC’s Maastricht-based subsidiary had said in its authorisation application that none of the alternatives available had the same characteristics as the lead chromates in question. However, both Sweden and the UK have banned the use of lead chromates in road marking paint, while evidence from other pigment manufacturers made it clear that “replacement solutions existed in the EU market for all the uses set out by DCC Maastricht in its authorisation request,” the tribunal concluded.

Environmental law group ClientEarth welcomed the ruling as a “huge victory for the environment and public health.”Alice Bernard, a chemicals lawyer for the group, said it was also a win for “the companies who had invested in safer solutions decades ago that the commission’s authorisation had effectively disadvantaged.”

Elise Vitali, policy officer on chemicals for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), branded the original authorisation a “farce” that “exposes just how permissive the EU is to conservative business interests”. She added: “This shameful carte blanche has hammered the business case for developing safer alternative chemicals and rewarded those firms that are unable or unwilling to kick their toxic habits. We are happy to see the court remind officials that the law is the law.”

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