Today marks 1,000 days since the European Commission made a pledge in its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability to ban the most harmful chemicals from all consumer products, through a revision of the EU’s chemicals safety law, REACH. The revision was promised for the end of 2022, but EU Commissioners decided to delay it after lobbying from the German chemicals industry.
This comes despite the fact that the EU-funded European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU) has found “alarmingly high” levels of exposure to hazardous chemicals among the general population. HBM4EU is the largest European screening of human contamination ever undertaken, involving 116 government agencies, labs and universities. Large parts of the population were found to be polluted with the most harmful chemical groups, including bisphenols, flame retardants, ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS and phthalates.
The HBM4EU findings laid bare the weaknesses of the current regulatory system, which has failed to provide safety data, address chemical cocktails and which has permitted the proliferation of ‘regrettable substitutions’ – or more accurately ‘regulatory avoidance’. This is when companies avoid regulation by moving from one hazardous chemical that is being regulated, to a very similar chemical which the regulator has not yet addressed, which CHEM Trust highlighted in our ‘Toxic Soup’ report in 2018. This practice may be legal, but it means that we continue to be exposed to harmful chemicals.
Though the evidence of human pollution is alarming, the European Commission’s draft impact assessment [main text, annexes] on the REACH revision, obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), suggests that officials are preparing a retreat from the toxic-free products pledge. Instead of covering all consumer products with the new ban, they would only cover those with the highest emissions or exposure. This would fail to prevent harm, because there is no safe level for chemicals that cause cancer, disrupt the hormone system or persist in the environment and humans.
The scenarios in the impact assessment only cover restrictions of the most hazardous chemicals in a maximum of 50% of products, with other scenarios covering 10% or even only 1% of products. This is despite the document estimating that the human health benefits from avoiding obesity, cancer, infertility and other diseases linked to chemical exposure will outweigh costs to industry by more than 10 times.
CHEM Trust Head of Science Ninja Reineke said:
“The EU human biomonitoring data has found very concerning contamination of EU citizens, in particular children and teenagers. The fact that this current body burden from a complex mixture of harmful chemicals can contribute to health impacts is a clear call for action.”
CHEM Trust Chief EU Policy Advocate, Stefan Scheuer said:
“Systematic regulatory avoidance by chemical companies puts people and the planet in danger, as they move from selling one harmful chemical to another. Exactly 1000 days ago the European Commission pledged to fix this and tighten the EU rules on chemicals. President von der Leyen needs to live up to her commitments and get stronger rules published without delay.”
EEB Head of Chemicals Policy Tatiana Santos said:
“HBM4EU has revealed the shocking scale of both our toxic exposure and of regulatory failure. The EU promised much stronger chemical protections 1000 days ago, but promises don’t help. With health savings outweighing the costs to industry by a factor of 10, we need those stronger rules now.”
For a summary of the HBM4EU results, see these two key publications:
- Harmonised human biomonitoring in European children, teenagers and adults: EU-wide exposure data of 11 chemical substance groups
- HBM4EU results support the Chemicals´ Strategy for Sustainability and the ZeroPollution action plan