PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) are a group of chemicals which were produced in large quantities by companies such as Monsanto, and were widely used in electrical equipment, sealants and paints. Their production was phased out in the mid 1980’s in Europe, and they are now banned by the global Stockholm convention, as they were found to be toxic and to accumulate in wildlife and people. Many argue this ban should have happened years earlier, and Monsanto has recently been accused of continuing to produce and sell PCBs “for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment“.
Orcas. Source: NOAA, USA
Despite these bans, releases of PCBs to the environment continue because they are present in building products and electrical equipment, though there are processes in place to destroy PCBs in electrical transformers. Emissions from building sealants continue, with little done in many EU countries to address this source.
Once in the environment, PCBs stick around and researchers have found that levels of these chemicals in killer whales (Orca) around Europe are at levels high enough to damage reproduction, with little sign of reduction in recent years. More needs to be done – including by the EU – to prevent ongoing PCB releases from building products and to ensure that all sources are dealt with.
After years of delays, debates and continued exposure of people and wildlife to chemicals with hormone disrupting properties (EDCs), experts from EU governments voted this morning to support the latest Commission proposal defining criteria for identifying endocrine disrupters.
In CHEM Trust’s view the criteria will not properly protect public health and the environment, as they require too much evidence before action is taken. The more evidence that is required, the longer people and wildlife will continue to be exposed to chemicals of concern.
These criteria will be used in EU pesticides law, are expected to be adopted for application in the EU biocides law and are likely to have implications for other EU laws. The Commission has already started work on detailed guidance on how these criteria will be applied. [read more]
The EUs system for regulating chemicals, REACH, came into force 10 years ago, on the 1st June 2007. It aimed to gather reliable safety data on chemicals that are used in Europe, and to control those with problems, substituting them with safer alternatives. It was one of the most complex and controversial regulatory proposals that the EU has ever produced, with many exaggerated claims made of its negative impacts on EU industry – claims which have been disproved over the last ten years.
The view of environmental groups on the final REACH text was that REACH was “alive, but not kicking“, with REACH being a huge step forward, but significant gaps and loopholes remained.The groups also emphasised the importance of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), stating that “The new EU Chemicals Agency in Helsinki will have to be closely monitored to ensure that REACH can deliver“.
Ten years on, as the EU undertakes its second five year evaluation of REACH, it’s an opportunity to briefly look back and look forward at how we got here & where next for REACH.
On Friday 23rd June, a year after the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU, the Greener UK coalition – of which CHEM Trust is a member – published their first ‘Brexit Risk Tracker‘. Most of the UK’s environmental protection rules are based on laws that have been agreed at EU level, so by leaving the EU, the UK risks losing these protections. The Risk Tracker, assembled by a group of environmental NGOs, assesses which policy areas are of particular concern.
CHEM Trust has analysed the situation regarding chemicals policy and concludes that there is a high risk to environment and health protection, as the UK Government has not committed to the UK staying within these highly sophisticated and world-leading EU regulations. [read more]
The UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has today published the report of its inquiry on chemicals regulation after the EU referendum, which particularly focussed on the EU’s world-leading REACH system for regulating chemicals. The EAC criticise the UK Government’s lack of openness about its post-Brexit plans, and point out that most respondents want the UK to remain ‘as closely aligned to REACH as possible‘.
In CHEM Trust’s view the EAC has done the UK a service by carrying out this inquiry, but we believe that they could have been more explicit in calling for the UK to ask the remaining EU states (the EU27) to include full participation in REACH in the planned post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The EU27 has given clear indications that they wish the UK to retain EU environmental standards.
Effective chemicals regulation is essential in order to protect people and the environment in the UK from hazardous chemicals. Our recent report highlighting how chemicals in food and consumer products could harm brain development in children concluded that it was important for the UK to remain within the REACH system, as this is the best process for identifying and controlling chemicals of concern.
Following on from a very critical report by the European Parliament, the European Commission has finally announced that it will review the laws regulating the chemicals allowed in food contact materials such as packaging. They have also published a detailed study showing the extent of the problems caused by the lack of adequate EU rules covering food contact materials (FCM) such as paper and card, and the inks used to print on them.
Meanwhile, researchers have found that chemicals designated as having properties of very high concern by the EU’s main chemicals law REACH are still in use in food contact materials. CHEM Trust has previously organised a workshop examining the lack of co-ordination between REACH and EU food contact laws.
A report published today by CHEM Trust highlights how chemicals in food and consumer products used in homes, schools and offices could harm brain development in children.
The impacts – which may include ADHD and lower IQ – are avoidable and can prevent children reaching their full potential says CHEM Trust, in No Brainer: The impact of chemicals on children’s brain development: a cause for concern and a need for action.
Researchers have shown that many thousands of people have been exposed to now largely-banned chemicals such as lead and PCBs at high enough levels to have harmed their brain function. Now there is growing concern about the impacts of exposures to many of the ‘new’ chemicals in our 21st century lifestyles.
Chemicals of concern include brominated flame retardants (BFRs), a group of chemicals added to furniture, electronics and building materials, per- and poly- fluorocarbons (PFCs), used for non-stick coatings or breathable coatings in everyday products including packaging and clothes. Some chemicals in these groups are being phased out, but similar chemicals remain in everyday use. [read more]
It is clear that some very powerful forces within the European Commission are working to undermine effective regulation of hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs). On 20th December 2016, buried in the pre-Christmas wind-down, the Commission released its review of how EDCs should be treated by the authorisation process in the EU’s main REACH chemicals legislation.
The Commission missed its legal deadline for this review by over 3 years, and has significantly weakened the review text compared to an earlier draft that was discussed by EU government experts in July 2014. This is in spite of being reported as claiming, at that time, that it “does not intend to make further amendments to the document”, with this report also saying that the document was generally supported at that meeting.
The EU’s REACH chemicals law aims to ensure that chemicals are safely manufactured and used, so as to protect human health and the environment, at the same time as enhancing innovation and the competitiveness of EU industry. REACH includes requirements on companies to provide – and use – safety information on chemicals, and provides mechanisms to ban or control the use of particularly problematic chemicals.
REACH was passed just over 10 years ago, and came into force in June 2007. It was created after years of debate and investigation, and, like many EU laws, it is reviewed every five years in order to ensure that problems are identified and hopefully solved. The second five year review is underway now, and CHEM Trust have just submitted our comments to the European Commission’s consultation.
We believe the focus of this review should be on increasing the efficiency of REACH and making it more effective in ensuring environment and health protection, and there are real opportunities to do this.
We are all exposed to hundreds of man-made chemicals in our daily life, coming from everyday products including furniture, packaging and clothes. The aim of chemicals regulation is to try and establish which of these chemicals are dangerous, and then to put in place measures to ensure that they are used safely, or not used at all.
At the moment chemicals use in the UK is regulated through the EU’s main chemicals regulation REACH, but this may change if the UK leaves the EU. There are major risks to public health and the environment which could result from this change, as we know that we are all still exposed to hazardous chemicals, even in apparently innocuous products such as till receipts or furniture.
The Environmental Audit Committee of the UK House of Commons has just started an inquiry into this issue, “The Future of Chemicals Regulation after the EU Referendum“. CHEM Trust will be submitting its views on this important issue, emphasising (i) the importance for public health & the environment of having effective regulation of chemicals; (ii) the role of REACH as a world-leading regulation system, even though it is not perfect; (iii) potential risks from the UK becoming detached from REACH, and the challenges of creating a new regulatory system.