Resources to protect the UK public from hidden chemicals in consumer products are shockingly low, according to new data obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
Campaigners at environmental charity CHEM Trust asked 164 councils across the UK  how much they spent on monitoring consumer products for hazardous chemicals in the past five years, how many products were tested, and how many of those were found to breach legal limits .
The results reveal a postcode lottery for consumer health and environmental protection.
Phthalates can make up to 50% of the composition of a PVC plastic toy, like this football.
Phthalates are a well-known problematic group of chemicals for human health, which is why some of the uses of certain phthalates in toys and other children’s products are partly restricted in the EU. However, this does not mean that adults and children are not exposed to them from other sources. They have a wide variety of uses and are found in everyday consumer products such as, plastic packaging, carpets and still even in toys.
In fact just this week it has been reported that a joint customs and market surveillance operation by four EU countries has found that of 104 samples of toys it checked, more than a third contained illegal levels of phthalates.
Certain phthalates have already been found to be associated with the disruption of reproductive organ development in boys. However, two recent studies have found that exposure to these chemicals in the womb can have an impact on the language development of children and the early onset of female puberty.
Today saw the publication of a draft Political Declaration, setting out the framework for a future relationship between the EU and the UK. The declaration, which will guide negotiations following the UK’s departure from the EU, includes a commitment to ‘explore the possibility of co-operation of the UK with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)‘, and states that the UK ‘will consider aligning with Union rules in relevant areas‘.
CHEM Trust warmly welcomes this commitment, and has been calling for the UK to maintain close alignment to REACH since negotiations commenced two years ago. The UK Government has already called for associate membership of ECHA, in a speech by Theresa May in March. In our view, if the UK does commit to be fully aligned with EU chemicals laws, then it is in the EU27’s interest to permit UK (non-voting) participation in REACH. [read more]
It has already taken many years of debate for the EU to agree on criteria for identifying endocrine disrupting pesticides and biocides as a first step for regulatory controls. However, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from various other sources, including from food contact materials, cosmetics and toys are leading to concerns about impacts on health and the environment. In 2017 the EU Commission announced that it would develop a “new strategy to minimise exposures of EU citizens to endocrine disrupters beyond pesticides and biocides’.
Today, the EU Commission published the Communication `Towards a comprehensive EU framework on endocrine disrupters´. Instead of proposing steps for closing current policy gaps, it opens up a new process of consultation by starting a ‘REFIT’ regulatory fitness check of EU laws relating to EDCs. It does not contain any specific measures to reduce exposures which CHEM Trust proposed as a priority in our submission to the previous Commission consultation on the issue this summer.
Scary children’s mask, containing 45% of hazardous DEHP; legal limit 0.1%, notified to RAPEX by Germany
Every day people across the UK and Europe buy millions of products, taking for granted that these goods are safe, free from illegal levels of hazardous chemicals. Authorities across the EU test products like toys, to check if laws are being broken, and if they are then they notify an EU-wide safety service, RAPEX. For example, the halloween mask above, packed full of the banned reproductive toxin DEHP.
The UK is currently part of the RAPEX system, but a CHEM Trust investigation has found that UK consumers are highly dependent on other EU countries for assurance that products on the UK market are safe, as the UK itself notifies very few products. [read more]
Paper used as a food contact material
For over four years CHEM Trust has been calling for the EU to review its ineffective laws regulating chemicals in chemicals in Food Contact Materials (FCM) like food packaging. On September 24th, the European Commission invited a wide range of stakeholders to a workshop in Brussels to (finally!) launch this review.
As we have highlighted in the past, the current laws do not properly protect public health, as many materials – like paper, card, inks and glues – are not controlled by harmonised EU laws, and where harmonised laws do exist (like for plastic packaging), these laws are too weak. [read more]
The UK Conservative Party Conference this week was dominated by the major hurdles of Brexit, chiefly the Irish border, immigration policy and trade. However, chemicals continued to feature in discussions across the conference, from small fringe events on environment and trade up to the main stage address from Environment Minister Michael Gove.
CHEM Trust’s Kate Young at Conservative Party Conference
The deep divisions currently present in the Conservative Party are well illustrated by the debate on how chemicals should be regulated post-Brexit. The Prime Minister has called for the UK to attain associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA and to remain in the EU’s world-leading REACH chemicals regulatory system.
As we have outlined previously, our analysis is that the Government’s White Paper proposals address only two of the three preconditions that we believe will be necessary for the UK to have a chance of this. The third precondition, staying within the EU’s chemical related laws, is missing. [read more]
CHEM Trust reported in July that we are working with a collaboration of academic scientists and NGOs to identify the hazardous chemicals associated with plastic packaging. We published a database of Chemicals associated with Plastic Packaging (CPPdb) which lists 4000 chemicals that are potentially present in plastic packaging, or used during its manufacture. At least 148 of these chemicals were identified as hazardous to human health and/or the environment.
The project has now identified which chemicals in plastic packaging, based on their potential impact on human health and the environment, should be a priority for the industry to find alternatives to. The process for identification of priority substances uses a set of agreed criteria and expert judgement; it’s worth noting that different prioritisation processes will have different outcomes.
Today, Monday 24th of September, the UK Government published papers on how the UK plans to transfer EU chemicals law REACH into UK law in the event of a no-deal exit from the EU.
In line with other policy areas, on REACH the UK Government plans to copy across the EU law and only modify it to ensure workability. At first glance this might be assumed to ensure that such an approach would keep the UK’s chemical regulation in line with the EU – while in reality this is not the case.
Defra have suggested that all existing chemical controls would be copied across. However, for future controls the UK would just work with a simplified copy of the EU’s decision-making process in REACH, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) acting as the lead UK regulatory authority. We are very concerned that the U.K. may not ban future chemicals of concern in parallel with the EU.
This proposed approach raises a number of significant concerns: [read more]
Plastic packaging in everyday products
As CHEM Trust reported in May a collaboration of academic scientists and NGOs have been working together to identify the hazardous chemicals associated with plastic packaging. We reported that over 4000 chemicals have been identified that are potentially present in plastic packaging or used during its manufacture. At least 148 of these chemicals have been identified as hazardous to human health and/or the environment.
This week the “Chemicals associated with Plastic Packaging database” (CPPdb) has been published.This database lists the chemicals that are likely to be used in the manufacturing of plastic packaging and could be present in final packaging articles like a shampoo bottle, a wrapping of a take-away sandwich or a plastic wrapping for a toy.