In a new report, Corporate Europe Observatory takes another stab at the lengthy case of titanium dioxide classification in the European Union, and exposes how member states defend their chemical industries by pushing for weaker legislation.
ChemSec wrote about the case a year ago, the day before the REACH Committee were to discuss the classification and potential labelling of the substance.
“The main problem is if the Commission does not follow the recommendations from the scientific committee, but bows to industry pressure. Classification and labelling must be based solely on intrinsic properties and not on socio-economic considerations”, Frida Hök, Senior Policy Advisor at ChemSec, said at the time.
It all started back in 2016 when France submitted a request to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to classify titanium dioxide as a “carcinogen by inhalation”, which would be enough to identify it as a Substance of Very High Concern(SVHC) and list it on the REACH Candidate List.
“Classification and labelling
must be based solely
on intrinsic properties”
The following public consultation was overflooded by responses. According to a previous report from Corporate Europe Observatory, almost all of the 500 responses were from industry opposing the classification.
Eventually, ECHA’s risk assessment committee proposed to downgrade the original proposal by classifying the substance as a “suspected carcinogen” when inhaled, and sent their opinion to the EU Commission. From that point on, the Commission tried to find an agreement on whether and how to classify this widely-used but controversial “whitening chemical”.
Easier said than done.
Some member states opposed both the ECHA opinion and the Commission’s attempts to reach an agreement all the way to the EU Council and fought tooth and nail to block the process.
One of them is the Czech Republic, which opposed the proposed classification of titanium dioxide both in the Commission-coordinated process and later in the EU Council.
“Member states fought tooth and nail to block the process”
Coincidentally, the Prime Minister Andrej Babiš owns Precheza – the only company in the Czech Republic producing titanium dioxide. Precheza exports 90% of the 64,000 tonnes of titanium dioxide it produces per year, referring to it as “Czech family silver”.
The company is also one of eight members in the lobby group Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers’ Association (TDMA) which led the lobbying against the classification. TDMA undertook many activities in the lobby battle including a €14 million research programme, using lobby consultancy Fleishman-Hillard, and lobby meetings.
Germany is another member state that was very active in defending titanium dioxide producers right from the get-go, and was the one who proposed a much weaker, alternative classification of the substance that would only involve exposure limits for workplaces. This proposal was enthusiastically supported by like-minded member states, causing the Commission’s proposal to stay as feeble as possible throughout the process.
Much like the other opposing member states, Germany has a big titanium dioxide industry, with chemical company Evonik being a former member of TDMA.
The United Kingdom and Slovenia also have significant titanium dioxide industries, and the governments of these countries made a key intervention in the approval process two years ago with a proposal for a weak classification which would exclude mixtures.
“The final titanium dioxide classification will be in force from October 2021”
In the final classification of titanium dioxide, the Commission weakened its own proposal – along the lines of the UK-Slovenia one – to exclude mixtures, creating a loophole for consumers regarding information on the substance. The final classification means that liquid and solid mixtures will only be labelled with a warning about the dangers of inhalation, but not that the product contains a “suspected carcinogen”.
This final titanium dioxide classification will go ahead and be in force from October 2021.
“It was disappointing to see that industry was able to influence the classification process in such a profound way. The big losers in all of this are, of course, the consumers who will go uninformed about the presence of a cancer-causing chemical in products they buy”, Frida Hök now reflects when the lengthy case seems to have come to an end.
Titanium dioxide is a whitening agent that comes in many shapes and sizes. It is used in a wide range of applications, including food, cosmetics, sunscreens, paints, and printing. The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has, however, determined that the chemical is a “possible carcinogen for humans” and studies conducted on rats show that inhalation of it induces lung tumours.