• 2005-01-26
This week the European Parliament has begun debating the significance of REACH 's Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals 's legislation that would regulate the mass of hazardous chemicals that are threatening to turn the Baltic Sea into an alphabet soup of deadly, often unpronounceable contaminates.

Press releases and reports prepared by the World Wildlife Fund are built on information that has been long known and studied about the Baltic Sea, yet outside a small circle of activists and specialists few are aware of just how dirty the body of water has become. According to the report, chemicals and substances continue to accumulate in the Baltic, and if something is not done then the sea's future will become increasingly dire. Which is why this cannot be a national issue but must be taken to the supranational level. Many north European countries depend on the Baltic Sea, and no one government can make a difference.

Curiously, WWF officials are quick to point out that Russia is not to blame for the looming catastrophe. Most of the chemical build-up, they say, is due to modern production techniques, such as computers and electronics, that are concentrated in the Baltic region's developed countries. And since all but Russia are EU members, the initiative to tackle the problem must come from Brussels.

For Baltic cuisine, which include copious amounts of herring and salmon, and regional economies, which depend on fishing for jobs, the WWF report has staggering implications. Seafood, of course, is a popular dish in many of the Baltic Sea states, yet few realize that Baltic salmon often times comes with an alarmingly high content of dioxin. To be sure, this is not fear-mongering: If one limits one's intake of Baltic Sea fish products, chemical buildup can be minimized. In indigenous populations in the far north, mothers' milk is reportedly so toxic that it passes on contaminates to children while breast feeding. Sweden, which has taken the lead on the new legislation, has warned women of child-bearing age not to eat salmon more than once a week. No such warning exists in any of the Baltic states (at least that we're aware of).

The European Parliament should wholeheartedly support and even strengthen the legislation, as the only body that is directly elected by the European citizen, it has a special responsibility to the people of Europe to protect its environment. Adopting the legislation will be a long process, one subject to the EU's codecision procedure, meaning that both Parliament and the Council of Ministers will work on it, with the first reading by the parliament expected only sometime in Autumn. The European Parliament must be steadfast in adopting a strong REACH program, without which many of us will have to expunge Baltic fish from our diets.