“Zero pollution” and “toxic-free environment” pledges overcame industry opposition to become last minute additions to the European Green Deal, announced this afternoon.

Ursula von der Leyen promised a zero pollution goal in her successful pitch to become European Commission president. The European Parliament and Council have long backed a non-toxic environment strategy to tackle what the European Environment Agency and civil society describe as a serious and growing chemical pollution problem.

The chemical industry is worth €500 billion a year and is owned by some of Europe’s richest and most powerful individuals.

Industry chief Marco Mensink wanted a “European chemicals industry industrial policy” and railed against the non-toxic environment title, reportedly saying:

“We don’t need new legislation, we don’t need a non-toxic environment. Sorry, environment ministers, we don’t like the word and we don’t need it.”

Both non-toxic environment and zero pollution were written out of one draft of the green deal in a section focused on chemical policy. In their place were a host of industry asks and buzzwords.

The so-called ‘innovation principle’ has been labelled a new ‘backdoor bypass to EU safety rules’ by Corporate Europe Observatory.

Several updated versions of the text surfaced just hours before the European Commission finally announced its European Green Deal, suggesting a last minute internal tussle.

Eventually there were two references to zero pollution and three for a toxic-free environment.

Campaigners celebrated. Tatiana Santos of the European Environmental Bureau said:

“We welcome today’s zero pollution and toxic-free environment pledges that promise to strengthen the law and develop safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals.

“The EU should now turn words into action to phase-out toxic chemicals without delay and ensure protection of the environment and the health of current and future generations.”

Photo by Markus Spiske

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