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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.

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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by harmonised EU-level laws, and where harmonised laws exist, like e.g. for plastic materials, the system is weak and outdated.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…]

The developing brain is exposed to a cocktail of chemicals

Throughout our life we are exposed to hundreds of chemicals from multiple sources including from food, consumer products, household dust and drinking water. Current safety assessments mainly focus on single substances. However, combined exposure to many chemicals can lead to unacceptable effects, even if single substances in the mixture are below their individual safety levels.

In 2012 the European Commission’s Communication on `The combination effects – Chemical mixtures` identified several gaps and areas for action. Since then research has increasingly found reason for concern, but this has had little impact on regulatory action.

Last week, on 26th of March “The Chemical Cocktail Challenge” workshop was held in Brussels to discuss recent research from two EU projects EDC-MixRisk and EuroMix, looking at exposure to mixtures of endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals (EDC).

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We are all exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) from everyday sources, including food contact materials, cosmetics and toys, and these are linked to a range of health concerns.  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.

In November 2018 the European Commission announced a regulatory fitness check of EU laws relating to EDCs, which CHEM Trust said fell far short of what is needed to urgently reduce human and wildlife exposure to EDCs.

Our concerns were echoed in the recent Environment Council debate on 5th of March, where several countries called for more decisive regulatory action to reduce and minimise exposure to endocrine disrupters.

This month, two new reports illustrate scientists’ concerns about EDCs and the way future European laws need to be improved and implemented.

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Many people are unaware of the fact that our bodies are contaminated with synthetic chemicals that weren’t there in pre-industrial times. Some of these chemicals are now banned, but stick around as they take decades to break down, if at all. Others are still in use in furniture or even cosmetics.

More than ten years ago, during the debate which led to the creation of the EU’s current chemicals law REACH, WWF`s DETOX campaign carried out blood analyses that found known harmful chemicals such as PCBs, brominated flame retardants and the fluorinated organic chemicals PFOS and PFOA present in all three generations of families from 12 European countries.

In 2017 the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU) was started, in order to understand more about our ‘body burden’ of synthetic chemicals. CHEM Trust is a stakeholder in this project, and has been involved in recommending priority substances for analysis; for example, our proposal to add some UV filters (the benzophenones) to the analysis was accepted in the in the 2nd priority list of chemicals to be investigated. [continue reading…]

This International Women’s Day, we want to highlight the work of one woman in particular who had a significant impact on the field of endocrine disrupting chemicals, Dr Theo Colborn (1927-2014).

A trained pharmacist, Colborn had an interest in wildlife from an early age. After completing her Master’s degree in science in 1981, she was awarded a PhD in Zoology in 1985 at the age of 58. Colborn undertook research on contaminants in the Great Lakes on the Canada-US border, and it was this research that demonstrated how endocrine disrupting chemicals were entering the environment and altering the development of wildlife. She co-authored the book ‘Our Stolen Future’, and in 2003 founded The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) in the US, a non-profit organisation which aims to reduce the production and use of hormone disrupting chemicals.

We sat down with co-founder of CHEM Trust, Elizabeth Salter Green, to talk about the impact that Theo had on the field. Elizabeth previously worked as Director of the WWF-UK Toxics Programme, and has also worked for WWF’s European Policy Office, and for WWF International. Prior to WWF she worked for several years as a marine biologist, and co-authored the book “The Toxic Consumer”.

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Yesterday evening the UK House of Commons debated and narrowly approved the REACH Statutory Instrument (SI) which attempts to copy the EU’s REACH chemicals regulation into domestic UK law and create a new UK Chemicals Agency in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Heavy criticisms of the SI were made from a cross-party group of MPs, though the debate culminated in approval of the SI by 297 votes for and 240 against. The Statutory Instrument still needs to be voted on by the House of Lords, and if approved it will be signed into law by the Minister.

The SI fails to ensure that UK controls on chemicals stay in line with those at the EU level, nor does it create adequate stakeholder engagement. However, these issues could be addressed through the UK Government adopting them as their policy.

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On Monday 11th February 2019 the EU finally launched a public consultation into the EU’s ineffective laws covering the use of chemicals in food contact materials such as packaging, pipes and kitchen utensils.

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.

Researchers have found coloured napkins leaching carcinogenic chemicals, pizza boxes contaminated with hormone disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) and packaging of microwave popcorn that contains persistent PFAS chemicals that accumulate in our blood. [continue reading…]

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 [1] 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 [2].

The results reveal a postcode lottery for consumer health and environmental protection.

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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.

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