9 out of 10 items in EU’s new product database contain lead
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9 out of 10 items in EU’s new product database contain lead

7.5 million articles containing hazardous substances have so far been submitted to the SCIP database. Out of these, 94 percent contain lead – a substance that even the ancient Greeks knew to be highly harmful to humans.

The SCIP database gathers information on products within the EU market that contain substances of very high concern, SVHCs. SCIP is an acronym for “Substances of Concern in articles as such or in complex objects (Products)”. Companies that place products containing SVHCs on the European market need to provide the database with chemical content.

Interestingly enough, when ChemSec took a closer look at what kind of hazardous substances or compounds were listed, we found that 94 percent of the 7.5 million submitted articles contained lead.

This means that 9 out of 10 articles in the database contain a highly hazardous compound that has been known for its harmful impact on humans for centuries.

“The ambition is that waste operators will learn how to manage waste in a safer and better way”

The SCIP database came into place in January 2021 and was developed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). SCIP aims to increase the knowledge of hazardous chemicals in articles and products throughout their whole lifecycle. Consumers can browse the database to see if an article contains something harmful, and the ambition is that waste operators will learn how to manage waste in a safer and better way.

The SCIP database does not impose any duties on waste operators. Instead, it seeks to make information available so that more products can be recycled and thus contribute to a circular economy.

 

Lead still a common ingredient

Our concern here is the fact that lead, until this day, remains such a common ingredient in so many products within the EU market. Lead compounds can be found in such various products as cars, toys, keyboards, microwave ovens, lamps, pencils, and wristwatches, to name but a few. Historically, lead compounds have had many functions, for example in pottery glazes, piping, and as a protective covering on ship hulls.

Lead was one of the first harmful substances to be disclosed over a century ago. The fact that lead is toxic became widely recognized in the late 19th century during the industrial revolution. Even in ancient Greece, well-educated writers were aware of this and knew some of the symptoms of lead poisoning. So, we can’t exactly say “we didn’t know”.

 

Toxic to reproduction – and makes us stupid

Let us refresh our collective memory on the dangers of lead and lead compounds again: 32 lead-containing substances are listed as SVHCs, all of them classified as toxic to reproduction, some in combination with carcinogenicity.

“The IQ loss for the most heavily exposed groups is estimated to be up to 7 points”

Yet another disturbing fact is that exposure to lead actually makes us stupid. A recent American study shows that high exposure to lead has led to an average 2.6 drop in IQ per person.

Consumption of leaded gas was at its peak in the 1960s and the 1970s, and people born then had especially high exposure. According to researchers, the IQ loss for the most heavily exposed groups is estimated to be up to 7 points.

In addition, several cases of mass lead poisoning have occurred over the years throughout the world. One of the more recent ones was the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, in 2014, which was caused by lead-contaminated drinking water. The scandal resulted in a settlement of 641 million dollars, mainly going to the families of children affected by the crisis.

 

Particularly harmful to children

Speaking of children – lead is particularly harmful to young children, as highlighted by WHO. It affects multiple body systems and it is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system.

Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with intellectual disabilities. In particular, lead can affect children’s brain development, resulting in behavioural changes such as reduced attention span.

And worst of all – we’ve known about the dangers of lead long enough to have found alternatives. In many cases, there are safer substitutes to lead compounds.

“Lead can affect children’s brain development, resulting in behavioural changes such as reduced attention span”

“It is extremely surprising that such an overwhelming majority of the articles listed in the SCIP database contains lead compounds, of all substances”, says Jonatan Kleimark, Senior Chemicals and Business Advisor at ChemSec. “If there is one substance family whose toxicity has been widely known for a long time it is lead compounds. We need to reduce the use. There is enough proof of hazardous properties, as well as safer alternatives for these compounds.”

The SCIP database has only been up and running for a little more than a year. It remains to be seen if future products listed will follow the same trend when it comes to lead content, or if the data will look different as more products and articles are being added. We hope for the latter.