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In its Plastics Strategy, published in January this year, the EU Commission announced it had tasked ECHA to collect background information and review the scientific basis for taking regulatory action at the EU level regarding intentionally added microplastics in products.

Zooplankton microplastic

[image: Microplastic Ingestion by Zooplankton. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (12), pp 6646–6655]

CHEM Trust has participated in the first step of the process by responding to ECHA’s call for evidence and information that closed on 11 May 2018. ECHA will review the evidence presented and then plans to submit a restriction proposal to the EU Commission by mid-January 2019. The proposal will subsequently be discussed and amended by ECHA scientific committees before being submitted to public consultation later in 2019.

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CHEM Trust has joined an important collaboration of NGOs and academic scientists looking at the topical and crucial issue of hazardous chemicals in plastic packaging.

As we all know, use of plastic packaging is increasing globally, causing environmental and human health concerns. In 2015 annual plastic production was 380Mt, of which about 40 per cent was used in packaging, with the majority being used in food packaging.

Plastic packaging is a source of chemical exposure to consumers and workers, as chemicals used in the packaging can migrate into foods and the environment during manufacturing, use, disposal and recycling. It is therefore vital for us to know what chemicals are present in plastic packaging and what the associated risks are.
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A new report From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup? How companies switch from a known hazardous chemical to one with similar properties, and how regulators could stop them, published today by CHEM Trust, highlights how industry is being allowed to replace the well-known hormone disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA), with very similar chemicals that may also be harmful.

BPA is a chemical that has been used in thermal paper till receipts, polycarbonate water bottles, and food can linings. It’s also a common contaminant of house dust. It was first found to be able to mimic the female hormone in the 1930s and in recent years there has been more and more evidence of its potential impact on health, including increased risk of breast cancer, impaired sperm counts, impacts on diabetes and obesity, and hyperactivity in children.

The European Union (EU) has banned BPA’s use in baby bottles, and is phasing it out of till receipts, but it is still extensively used in other products.

When BPA first came to the public’s attention over two decades ago, manufacturers scrambled to find replacement chemicals to use in products. Many found that the easiest option was to move to another closely-related bisphenol, such as bisphenol S (BPS). Researchers are now finding many of these closely-related chemicals in people around the world – and they are finding that they are also potential hormone disruptors. However, regulators are not yet controlling the use of these similar chemicals.

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In a speech on Friday March 2nd the UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated that the UK wished to discuss the possibility of remaining part of the EU chemicals agency ECHA after Brexit.

CHEM Trust welcomes this announcement, but it is important to realise that the other EU governments (the EU27) will inevitably set specific conditions for such participation, and that the risk remains that participation may be considered ‘cherry picking’ by the EU. The contrasting experiences of Norway and Switzerland in gaining – and not gaining – access to ECHA are instructive. [read more]

In 2014 CHEM Trust published a detailed study of the increasing evidence that human and veterinary medicines are damaging wildlife.

Three years later, the European Commission has just completed a consultation on a proposed “Strategic approach” to pharmaceuticals in the environment.

CHEM Trust’s response to this consultation argues that the “issue of pharmaceuticals in the environment is a neglected policy area and stricter regulatory action is long overdue“. We also make some specific policy recommendations.

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Last week another milestone was reached in Europe`s slow and ineffective process to protect our health and environment by reducing exposures to pesticides and biocides with harmful endocrine disrupting (ED) properties. On January 31st  a public consultation on the draft guidance document for identifying endocrine disrupters closed. This guidance is important because describes how industry and regulators should look at the scientific evidence available for identifying ED chemicals (EDCs).

Tractor spraying pesticides IMG 5235
Two European Agencies – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemical Agency (ECHA),  in collaboration with the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC)  – are currently in the process of drafting this technical guidance.

The slow EU process of identifying ED biocides and pesticides has meant that ED biocides and pesticides are not currently being properly regulated. In the meantime, the EU’s main chemicals law has identified several EDCs and they have been added to the REACH candidate list.

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On Thursday 1st February, UK politicians gathered in Westminster Hall to debate the future of UK chemical regulations after Brexit. A strong case was made for the business, health and environmental benefits of staying in the EU’s world-leading chemicals regulation system REACH.

The Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), Mary Creagh argued that creating a separate UK regulatory system was an ‘ideological indulgence’. However, the government Minister responsible for chemicals, Thérèse Coffey, reiterated that the UK is not planning to stay in REACH after Brexit. [read more]

Today, the 16th January 2018, the EU Commission released its long-expected Plastics Strategy. The Strategy includes an announcement that the Commission has started the process to ban both intentionally added microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics. Both these bans will be implemented as Restrictions under the EU’s main chemicals law REACH.

The Commission also announced a a Communication with options for addressing the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation.

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Will you be using toxic napkins at Christmas?

The weather is cooling down, Christmas street lights are switched on, New Year’s Eve celebrations are being prepared… It is the season to get merry and enjoy dinners with family and friends. You will probably use Christmassy paper napkins to decorate your table or to wrap slices of cakes and other sweets. However, what you probably don’t know is that these nice coloured paper napkins may transfer carcinogenic chemicals into your food.

You may wonder “How is this possible? EU regulations are meant to protect people’s health by controlling the use of chemicals in food packaging“. However, CHEM Trust has been highlighting for over 3 years that the EU’s system for regulating the use of chemicals in food contact materials (FCMs) is full of holes.

 

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On Wednesday 20th December, UK Members of Parliament will vote on an amendment calling on the UK Government to remain in the EU’s REACH chemicals regulations after Brexit. The amendment (NC61), which has been tabled by the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, comes after both industry and civil society groups made it clear that they believe that the UK should stay in this world-leading regulatory system.

The EU’s chemical regulatory system relies on a centralised chemical agency in Helsinki (ECHA), which hosts the world’s largest database of chemical safety and use. The UK will lose access to this database on Brexit, unless it negotiates continued membership as part of a post-Brexit trade deal. However, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove has made it clear that he wants the UK to have its own approach to chemical regulation after Brexit; this would be incompatible with REACH membership. [read more]