Thursday, 29 April 2021

Will the new EU chemicals strategy make our world less toxic?

 source: Irish Times

Chemicals are in almost everything we interact with and the World Health Organisation estimates the global production of chemicals will be four times higher in 2050 than it was in 2010. And while most of the production of basic chemicals happens outside Europe, chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU.

Chemicals are so commonly used in the production of food, cleaning agents, textiles, pharmaceuticals, office equipment, home furniture and even in the purification of our water supplies that we’ve almost stopped thinking about them. Yet more than 300 industrial chemicals are found in humans today that were not present in our grandparents. And babies are sometimes described as being born “pre-polluted”.

Human bio-monitoring studies in the EU have found a growing number of different hazardous chemicals in human blood and body tissue. These include pesticides, biocides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, plasticisers and flame retardants.

The EU has launched its chemical strategy for sustainability to address gaps in the regulation of chemicals. Under the current EU REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) regulations, any substance which is manufactured or imported into European in excess of one tonne per annum must be registered with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

The ECHA has one of the world’s largest databases on chemicals with records for about 120,000 substances on the EU market. Yet only about 22,000 chemicals have been registered so far. The ECHA is responsible for monitoring the validity and completeness of the REACH registration documents provided by manufacturers.

However, environmental campaigners suggest that major cosmetics, food, medicine and plastic producers across Europe are breaking the law by using millions of tonnes of chemicals without completing important safety checks.

Researchers at the German environmental charity BUND used freedom of information rules to obtain details of a German government investigation into chemical safety files from 2014 which concluded that 940 substances did not meet data safety standards set by REACH. Although the charity was unable to verify whether safety checks led to changed usage in the specified chemicals, it found that 41 substance dossiers remained unchanged from 2014 to 2019. The charity concluded that while the EU’s REACH 2006 chemical regulations oblige companies to complete safety checks, it’s not working as well as it should be.

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