The pace of tackling hazardous substance is too slow, the Commission’s report finds

News 2017 / October

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The pace of tackling hazardous substance is too slow, the Commission’s report finds

ChemSec welcomes the European Commission’s recently published background study for the non toxic environment strategy and urges the Commission to take on board the study’s findings in the upcoming strategy.

“This is an important report that provides a very good overview of the importance of working to reduce hazardous chemcials in society,” says Frida Hök, ChemSec senior policy advisor. “I would advise everyone to read it.”

“It emphasises the effects of the use of chemicals on human health and the environment. It also highlights the gaps in current regulation, shows the precautionary principle is not being used to its full potential and clarifies when the risk or the hazard approach are most effective to use.

The report includes ten sub-studies covering substitution, chemicals in products and non toxic material cycles, the protection of children and vulnerable groups from harmful exposure to chemicals, very persistent chemicals, innovation and competitiveness, non/less toxic substances and early warning systems for emerging chemical risks.

According to the report’s executive summary: “Scientific evidence is mounting that the exposures from everyday products, including articles, are exposing modern society to multiple hazardous chemicals, and that these chemicals, even at low dose levels, can give rise to subtle but long-term health effects.”

It continues: “Chemicals regulation depends on a hazard identification and a risk assessment procedure to estimate the extent of the exposure and on that basis the probability of harm as well as its possible severity. On the basis of such assessments, measures can be set in place to manage the known risks so that they are at levels considered acceptable (safe) to humans and the environment. But controlling the risk of harm is a moving target, given that quantities of chemicals and subsequent exposures are likely to increase dramatically. Moreover, risk assessments, usually carried out by a chemical’s proponents (e.g., the producer), often underestimate the risk of harm. Additional scientific research into the possible hazards posed by chemicals almost always leads to increased (and seldom to lessened) concern over risks to human health and the environment.”

The study also makes clear today’s pace of tackling hazardous substance is too slow and that, while REACH is good, it is not good enough.

“Current EU legislation does not adequately regulate the chemicals in articles and material cycles,” according to the executive summary.

“The very few restrictions relating to the use of chemicals in articles are scattered in different legislation, lack a systematic basis and do not take the overall and combined exposures to chemicals in articles sufficiently into account.”

The challenge now is for the findings of this 1100-page study to be included in the non toxic enviroment strategy that the Commission is obliged to develop under the 7th Environment Action Programme. The strategy will be presented sometime in 2018.

“This report provides a clear incentive to the Commission, to business and to investors to move up a gear in their sustainability work on chemicals,” says Frida Hök

“ChemSec urges the Commission to take on board the findings of this comprehensive study and to develop and agree a strong, inclusive non toxic environment strategy.”