The European Parliament's environment committee (Envi) has overwhelmingly rejected a motion to object to the proposed classification of titanium dioxide as a carcinogen, potentially giving the Commission the all clear to press ahead with its controversial decision.

Yesterday MEPs voted 19 in favour and 46 against the objection put forward by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with four abstentions.

The result means the ECR's motion for a resolution will now not be carried to a plenary session of Parliament, where an absolute majority among the 751 MEPs would have been required to veto the Commission's delegated act for classification.

However, a representative for the ECR told Chemical Watch it is "considering" the possibility of re-tabling the motion in plenary – an option open to political groups if they fail to muster support at Envi. The next plenary will be held on 11 December in Brussels.

The Commission can only publish its decision after both Parliament and the Council of Ministers have formally approved it, with harmonised classifications applying 18 months after that.

The institutions have until 4 February 2020 to scrutinise the delegated act. In practice the window for objections will be much tighter, given the deadlines and formalities of various committees.

The Commission adopted the Regulation containing the category 2 classification of inhalable powder forms of titanium dioxide on 4 October, dismissing criticism from myriad stakeholders in the EU and elsewhere.

But the proposal has had a tortuous journey through the legislature amid warnings from industry of legal issues over classifying the substance based on its dust hazard, which it says is a non-intrinsic property that may only affect workers.

Fresh developments, this week, saw Echa head Bjorn Hansen pour cold water on industry suggestions of an occupational exposure limit (OEL) as an alternative to classification.

And another US statement to the World Trade Organization questioned the implications of new CLP criteria for other respirable substances.

Anna Zalewska, a Polish MEP for the ECR, said the group's objection to the delegated act was over the proportionality of the proposed measures.

"There is a chance some [MEPs] are concerned at potentially being viewed as putting workers at risk. However this is not the point," she told Chemical Watch after the vote result.

"The science is far from being conclusive on the carcinogenicity of titanium dioxide as it is only proven on rats and, so far, there is no empirical proof for human beings," she said, adding that a less intrusive OEL would avert negative impacts on downstream sectors.

But Mr Hansen told MEPs ahead of an Envi debate on 2 December that industry itself had submitted the data, which met the criteria for classification.

The market for titanium dioxide is vast. It is mixed into paints, coatings and plastics for use by consumers as well as workers. Other applications include cosmetics, food, textiles, rubber and pharmaceuticals.

Ms Zalewska told Envi the substance is used in "thousands" of products – and there has been no financial analysis to estimate the cost of substituting it.

Delegated acts are rarely overturned during the EU scrutiny phase, but industry has said it will consider the next steps if the decision goes through.

The Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA) said it will follow the developments in Parliament. 

And Dr Martin Kanert, director general for the German paint and printing ink association (VdL), said it "regrets" there was no majority to support the ECR's motion. "We believe a good opportunity was missed."

But NGOs, who had argued for a broader scope of classification to protect consumers, had the opposite viewpoint.

The classification is still an improvement, even though mixtures with titanium dioxide will not be classified, said Elise Vitali, chemicals project officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

"Parliament did not give in to intense lobbying around this issue," she added. "It sided with better access to information on a suspected carcinogen by inhalation and refused to buy arguments based solely on socio-economic considerations, irrelevant for classification."

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