In June this year, EU Government experts voted unanimously in favour of adding GenX chemicals1 (a small group of fluorinated chemicals) to the EU list of substances of very high concern (SHVC), which is a first step in increasing regulatory controls over them.
CHEM Trust submitted comments supporting this recommendation, due to our concerns about their probable serious effects on human health and the environment. We very much welcome this decision and hope that it will send a strong signal to the chemical industry that it is time to move away from the use of these and other fluorinated chemicals.
What are GenX chemicals?
GenX chemicals are part of a large family of per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances, which are commonly known as PFAS. The “family” has over 4,730 members. The highly stable carbon-fluorine structure of PFAS can only be broken down at very high temperature and therefore they do not degrade in the environment. They are also very mobile, so if they are released into the environment the pollution spreads around the world. PFAS’s extreme persistence has earned them the nickname of ‘forever chemicals’. [continue reading…]
Today, the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published a new report on ‘Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life‘ following its inquiry into the subject. The EAC declare that “current regulation does not account for the cocktail of chemicals we are exposed to”, and that hazardous chemicals are now “ubiquitous in humans and the environment”.
The committee makes a wide range of important recommendations, including that:
- the UK Government should set ambitious targets for the reduction of chemicals in the environment in its forthcoming Chemicals Strategy;
- the UK Government should set up a biomonitoring programme to determine chemical contamination of wildlife and people in the UK;
- the labelling system for chemicals in consumer products should be reformed;
- the UK Government should prioritise data sharing relationships in future negotiations with the EU, such as access to the RAPEX product safety database.
- the UK Government should introduce a new furniture flammability test that will lead to reductions in use of chemical flame retardants;
- industry should innovate and adopt safer alternatives to using chemical flame retardants in domestic furniture.
On 4th June CHEM Trust’s lawyers Leigh Day sent a legal letter to the UK Government, arguing that their proposed post-Brexit rules for chemicals and pesticides were not a proper reflection of the EU laws they were supposed to be copying. These laws would enter into force in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Since this letter, the Government re-drafted the pesticides rules, claiming that there had been a ‘drafting error’, which was surprising given that they deleted the most controversial part of the EU’s pesticides law, the ban on endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals.
We have, after some delay, now received a Government response to our concerns that the proposed chemicals laws, a UK statutory instrument (SI) part-copying the EU’s main chemicals law REACH, remove the right of stakeholders to participate into decision making. In particular, the Government makes a commitment to not undermine opportunities for public participation [our emphasis]:
Last week CHEM Trust submitted a response to the UK Government’s consultation on their revised UK Marine Strategy Part 1. The response details our concerns that the strategy provides a limited and misleading assessment of hazardous chemicals in UK marine waters.
The problem of Marine pollution
Numerous hazardous, man-made chemicals contaminate the marine environment and have adverse effects on marine wildlife. These include many flame retardant chemicals, some per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), phthalates, parabens, UV filters and bisphenols. PFAS are known as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their extreme persistence, and have a negative impact on marine mammals.
Other chemicals such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides have been found in UK rivers and estuaries, which lead to the marine environment. Some pharmaceuticals with hormone disrupting properties have been linked to the feminisation of male fish.
Following a legal letter from Leigh Day on behalf of CHEM Trust, the UK Government have announced today that they will re-instate a ban on pesticides with endocrine (hormone) disrupting properties in their no-deal Brexit laws.
The Government are claiming this is a drafting error, yet this European ban on endocrine disrupting pesticides has been a major focus of lobbying from pesticide companies and the US government for many years, so it is surprising that such an error could be made accidentally and not be spotted by those who work in the sector.
For example, an internal European Commission note of a meeting of the World Trade Organisation in July 2015 describes an “aggressive and well orchestrated attack” on EU policies on endocrine disrupters from the US Government, supported by 16 other governments including India and China.
The UK Government has claimed that it would not weaken EU environmental laws when transferring them into UK law in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with Secretary of State Michael Gove stating that “We will deliver a Green Brexit, where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced“.
However, CHEM Trust’s analysis is that this pledge has been broken, and instead laws on pesticides have been weakened to allow the use of hazardous chemicals that can disrupt hormones.
- UPDATE: The UK Government has now restored this ban on hormone disrupting pesticides, claiming the deletion was a ‘drafting error’ – see our new blog for details.
Meanwhile in a separate law on other hazardous chemicals the Government are planning to shut out representatives of public health, environment and consumers from the decision-making process.
CHEM Trust, represented by law firm Leigh Day, has now sent a Pre-Action Protocol letter to Environment Minister Michael Gove setting out its concerns. The pre-action letter asks for more information from the Government before deciding whether to start judicial review proceedings.
This week CHEM Trust’s Head of Science, Dr Ninja Reineke, is speaking on a panel at the Helsinki Chemical Forum on the subject of regulating groups of hazardous chemicals.
Below she explains why this approach is needed to better protect wildlife and humans from hazardous chemicals.
Business as usual is not an option
The history of chemical regulation is full of examples of ‘too little, too late‘.
The UN’s Global Chemical Outlook II report highlighted that the goal to minimise adverse impacts on human health and the environment from chemicals by 2020 will not be reached.
The very strong conclusion is: “business as usual is therefore not an option.” This calls for faster and more determined action and an acceleration of measures to control the impacts from harmful chemicals. Currently it can easily take over a decade from the first evidence of harm to restricting problematic uses.
The task is not small. In Europe alone, more than 22,000 chemicals produced and imported (over 1 tonne per year) are registered for use. REACH has put in place some new restrictions and ended the use of some substances of very high concern, but progress remains slow. One of the reasons for this is that today’s ‘business as usual’ means a substance-by-substance approach in risk management.
European elections will be taking place from 23rd – 26th May 2019, with more than 400 million people eligible to vote across 28 Member States. Voters will elect over 700 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who have the power to amend proposed EU laws, contribute to EU policy making and will cross-examine and vote on a new European Commission later this year.
Environmental policy will undoubtedly play a key role in the next Parliament, and a recent YouGov poll in eleven EU Member States found that the environment was important for around 80% of voters in each country. A range of civil society groups have published ‘manifestos’ listing their priorities for the EU and for these elections, and hazardous chemicals are a common theme in many of them. [continue reading…]
On Tuesday this week CHEM Trust gave oral evidence to the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) inquiry into “Toxic chemicals in everyday life”.
We very much welcome this inquiry, as the main chemical exposures for humans and wildlife come from emissions from everyday products, such as furniture and food packaging. Some of these exposures come from chemicals that are still being used, others come from chemicals which have been banned but are still present in products in our homes, or from persistent pollution of the environment.
Prof Sumpter giving evidence (via Parliament.tv)
Our overarching message to the inquiry – as spelled out in our written submission – is that there needs to be faster, more protective and more comprehensive regulation of chemicals at UK, EU and at International levels in order to protect ourselves, wildlife and future generations from hazardous chemicals.
This message was also echoed in the inquiry’s first evidence session which heard from four UK Ecotoxicologists who sit on the UK Government’s Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee and advise Government on substances which have the potential to harm human health and the environment.
CHEM Trust has highlighted for nearly five years, that the current EU laws regulating the chemicals used in food contact materials (FCM) such as food packaging, cutlery, and factory equipment do not properly protect public health. Many materials, such as paper, card, inks and linings are not controlled by harmonised EU-level laws, and where harmonised laws exist, like e.g. for plastic materials, the system is weak and outdated.
The European Commission has finally begun to review these laws, and their consultants are currently running a public consultation. CHEM Trust has been working with other civil society groups to establish some key principles for an effective new system for regulating the materials that are in contact with the food we eat every day. [continue reading…]