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 On January 31st a public consultation on the draft guidance document for identifying endocrine disrupters closed.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).
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.
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.
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.
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]
The European Union has created the most sophisticated system for regulating hazardous chemicals in the world, called REACH. CHEM Trust is very concerned that the UK could lose access to this system on Brexit, and we joined with 18 other organisations, from Trade Unions to the Women’s Institute, to send a joint letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove on 24th October 2017.
The signatories to the letter – from Unite to the Women’s Institute to Weleda
On 21st November, the Minister responsible for chemical regulation, Thérèse Coffey, replied to us with a letter that was very vague about the Government’s plans, talking about aiming at a “positive deal in terms of our future trade agreement with the EU“. She also claims that “The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will convert current EU law into domestic and use the powers to amend REACH, as well as other related chemicals regulation to make them work properly in the UK”. In our view – and that of the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee – it is not possible to copy across REACH and make it work ‘properly’ in the UK.
On Monday 20th November CHEM Trust participated in a stakeholder workshop on the prioritisation of substances for a major European-wide research programme investigating which chemicals are contaminating our bodies. The European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU) is a joint effort of 26 countries and the European Commission, co-funded by the EC research programme Horizon 2020.
Running from 2017 to 2021 the main aim of the initiative is to coordinate and advance the measurement of the presence of chemicals in the European population. HBM4EU is expected to provide better evidence of the actual exposure of citizens to chemicals and the possible health effects.
CHEM Trust has been highlighting the severe deficiencies in the EU’s regulation of chemicals in food contact materials, where the laws have big gaps (e.g. paper and card food packaging), and allow continued use of hazardous chemicals. However, we are not just concerned with the deficiencies in the regulations, but also with the secrecy with which the European Commission works in this area.
- Update: We have now received a reply to our letter to the European Commission regarding industry-only stakeholder meetings, see below for details.
Nick Hazlewood (Chemical Watch), Nigel Haigh (IEEP), Meg Postle (Risk & Policy Analysts Ltd), Michael Warhurst (CHEMTrust), Elizabeth Shepherd Partner (Eversheds Sutherland), William Wilson (Wyeside Consulting Ltd)
On Friday 29th September, a wide range of stakeholders, including companies, politicians, the UK government and NGOs, gathered to discuss Brexit’s impact on future chemicals regulation in a comprehensive workshop organised by Chemical Watch, in collaboration with CHEM Trust and Tech UK.
The overwhelming message of the event was that the UK should aim to stay in the EU’s main chemicals regulation REACH after Brexit, as otherwise supply chains would be disrupted, costs for UK industry would increase and public health and environment quality in the UK would be threatened.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of British citizens – including 62% of Leave voters – believe that there should be no reduction in regulatory standards that protect people and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals when the UK leaves the EU, according to a new poll conducted on behalf of SumOfUs and CHEM Trust by GQR Research.
As Brexit negotiations continue amid debates within the Cabinet over whether the UK should maintain EU regulatory standards or adopt a low-regulation landscape to attract business, it is clear that the the British public, whether they voted leave or remain, want to maintain current protections from potentially harmful chemicals.