EU to ban six toxic chemicals in household plastics

The European Union will ban six toxic chemicals within three to five years, three of which are commonly used in plastic household items, the European Commission said on this week. After years of heated debate, EU lawmakers agreed in 2006 on a far-reaching proposal to review the way chemicals are approved in Europe. The EU regulation on "Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals" (REACH), aims to make chemicals safer for human health and the environment by placing the burden on businesses to prove their products are safe before they can be placed on the market. In January last year, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identified 29 substances that present the greatest cause for concern regarding public health and the environment. These need to go through special scrutiny before they are authorised. A roadmap agreed by the EU executive and ECHA is expected to increase the number of chemicals on the list to 135 by 2012. Among the compounds are three plastic softening phthalates, a musk fragrance, a flame retardant and a hardener for epoxy resin, the Commission said. Although the most toxic phthalates have been banned in children's toys since 1999, a survey last October showed some are commonly found in products on supermarket shelves, including items regularly used by children, such as pencil cases and erasers. The decision is being taken under the REACH regulation on chemicals, adopted in 2006 in what has been billed as the most epic lobbying battle in the EU's history.

ExxonMobil seals $1bn Black Sea oil deal with Russia

ExxonMobil, the biggest privately-controlled oil company in the world, will make a new investment in Russia for the first time in over a decade as Moscow seeks to thaw its frosty investor climate and keep its oil flowing. Russian state oil company Rosneft will develop over a billion tonnes of Black Sea oil using a $1 billion investment by ExxonMobil, whose relationship with the world's top oil producing country has been poor in the 21st Century. The deal was announced on 27 January in Davos and came just days after Rosneft unveiled an Arctic tie-up and share swap with Britain's BP.

Cap & trade, European style

A new regulatory regime for dispensing around 100 billion euros of carbon permits has been approved by EU regulators, granting steelmakers and oil refineries free emission allowances in an effort to shield them from international competition after 2012. Fears that tighter controls on CO2 emissions in Europe will drive factories to relocate abroad has led the EU to grant sweeping exemptions for industries deemed to be at risk. Existing proposals for the permits to be allocated according to carbon intensity "benchmarks" were approved with only slight modifications by the European Commission on 15 December.

Food industry’s green efforts may hit price wall

The European food and drinks industry is finalising plans to measure its environmental performance but increasingly price-aware consumers might derail their efforts, the European Commission cautioned. A European round table bringing together the food industry, farmers and consumer groups has drawn up a series of 10 guiding principles to assess the environmental impact of food and drink products during their entire life cycle.