On my way to work this morning, I stopped at a coffee shop to buy a cup of coffee. “One americano to go, please”, I told the person attending me. A minute later, I stood there with a take-away cup in my right hand and a receipt in my left hand.
Looking at these two objects made me think about work.
Because the last couple of months, I have been working on a project concerning hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging in particular, and food contact materials in general.
I started wondering which toxic chemicals the take-away cup might contain that are not allowed in the receipt.
Why? Well, lately I have learned a very concerning fact.
“Several hazardous chemicals are allowed to be used in food contact material”
European chemicals legislation allows several hazardous chemicals, that are identified as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and restricted under the REACH regulation, to be used in food contact material.
How can this be? If you think about it, these chemicals should perhaps even be thought of as more hazardous in these materials, seeing as they come in direct contact with the food that you are about to ingest into your body.
“There is no link between data gathered by ECHA, and the assessments of EFSA”
Well, first of all, chemicals used in food contact material do not fall under the REACH regulation, and are not managed by ECHA. Instead, the responsibility lies on EFSA – the European Food Safety Authority.
That’s fine. What is strange though, is that there is no link between data gathered by ECHA about the hazards of certain chemicals, and the assessments that EFSA does.
Even if ECHA identifies a substance as a SVHC and adds it to the Candidate List it is not reflected in the regulation regarding food contact material. There is no mirroring between them. The conclusions that ECHA reaches have no weight when it comes to these materials.
One of the few food contact materials that even has a regulation is plastics. For that you have what EFSA calls the Union List, which is a list that specifies to what extent you may use certain chemicals in food contact materials made from plastics.
“Numerous substances that ECHA has identified as SVHCs are found on the Union List”
Several substances that ECHA has identified as SVHCs are found on this list, and are therefore still allowed to be used in material that has direct contact with the food you eat.
Two examples are phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), which have both shown to be endocrine disruptors that can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects and developmental and reproductive disorders.
Personally, I would rather have these chemicals nowhere near my food.
“The European Union has stated that the current regulation is in great need of an overview. I agree”
Other food contact materials such as paper and board have no regulation, at least no harmonized regulation within the European Union. These materials are instead subject to national regulation, in those cases when there even is one.
The same goes for other components to the packaging such as ink, coatings and adhesives.
The European Union has stated that the current regulation does not offer public health protection and that it is in great need of an overview. I agree.
I cannot understand why SVHCs should be allowed in the take-away cup that I put my lips on or the plastic wrapping that covers a sandwich, when they are not even allowed in receipts or carpets or… well, really anything else.
Dr. Jonathan Kleimark
Senior Chemicals Advisor at ChemSec