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Scary stuff: UK highly dependent on other EU countries for assurance that toys are safe

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.

The analysis league table

Our analysis has found that, after adjusting for population, the UK has submitted significantly fewer notifications of consumer products containing hazardous chemicals than many other EU Member States, placing it 15th out of 31 countries (see graph). Between 2014 and 2018, the UK submitted only 47 chemical related notifications (0.7 per million population), compared to, for example, 288 by the Czech Republic (27.2 per million population).

RAPEX notifications on dangerous products (risk category ‘chemical’) by country, per million population

Working together to increase safety

In addition, the EU also organises and helps fund ‘Joint Market Surveillance’ projects on hazardous chemicals involving co-ordinated enforcement activity between multiple countries (usually involving 6-20 Member States in each project).

The UK has participated in none of these enforcement projects between 2013 and 2016, while Germany for example has been involved in ten.

Not good enough

Safety testing of products in the UK is the responsibility of local authority trading standards departments, with some national co-ordination from the Office for Product Safety and Standards, which was created in January 2018.

Kate Young, Brexit campaigner at CHEM Trust, said:

“The fact that the UK notifies very few chemical hazards to the EU and has not participated in a single EU-wide project in this area in recent years is very disturbing.

Testing of consumer products like toys is largely the responsibility of local councils, and these statistics suggest that UK local authorities may not have enough capacity to protect human health and the environment without continued dependence on EU efforts.

CHEM Trust’s results also raise serious questions about whether the UK Government is investing enough in ensuring that toys and other products are safe.”