On 14th October the European Commission published a new Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) as part of the delivery of the EU’s zero pollution ambition in the European Green Deal. The strategy announces a range of actions that will better protect health and the environment from harmful chemicals, including plans to ban some of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, including in food contact materials (FCM) such as packaging.
The initial focus will be bans on non-essential uses of chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction, disrupt the endocrine system or are persistent and bioaccumulative. These proposed bans are in two phases, firstly a prioritisation for legal restrictions on use through the main EU chemicals law REACH for chemicals with these properties, and secondly through strengthening regulations, including in the upcoming revision of the laws regulating chemicals in food contact uses.
In addition, the Commission will study how to extend this approach to further harmful chemicals, including those affecting the immune, neurological or respiratory systems and chemicals toxic to a specific organ.
Another important commitment in the CSS is that the Commission states that it will “introduce or reinforce provisions to take account of the combination effects in other relevant legislation, such as legislation on water, food additives, toys, food contact material, detergents and cosmetics”. CHEM Trust has been highlighting the need for EU chemicals laws to reflect the reality that consumers are exposed to multiple harmful chemicals.
A new regulatory system for chemicals in water contact materials
In another potentially significant development for FCM regulation, a revised Drinking Water Directive has now been adopted by EU Member States & only needs formal sign-off from the European Parliament before it becomes law.
This law includes a time-limited process to create a positive list of chemicals permitted in water contact materials like pipes. An initial positive list would be due to be published around the end of 2024, and there are then a further 15 years for all these substances to be reviewed by the European Chemical Agency ECHA. ECHA will prioritise chemicals within this 15 year period, with chemicals of most concern being reviewed first.
The Directive lays out the basic framework of the approach, but there will need to be development of guidance for testing the safety of substances. This guidance must be agreed within 3 years of the entry into force of the Directive, which will be around the end of 2023.
The creation of good-quality guidance with input from stakeholders is a key part of any complex regulatory process, and ECHA has already been successful in developing large quantities of such guidance for REACH. Unfortunately one of the many failures of the current EU FCM system has been a lack of an effective process to produce up-to-date guidance, with the FCM system currently depending on risk assessment guidance agreed in 2001 – several years before the current FCM law was passed.
In CHEM Trust’s view the European Commission should assess whether the new Drinking Water Directive approach to positive listing (and development of guidance) could be a model for creating positive lists of chemicals permitted to be used in food contact materials. One of the biggest failings of the current regulatory system for chemicals in FCM is the lack of any EU positive lists for chemicals in paper, board, inks, coatings and glues – there is a list for chemicals used in plastic FCM, though this is not properly updated with new scientific information.
The next step on EU FCM laws should be the publication – probably before Christmas – of the Commission’s Inception Impact Assessment for the reform of the FCM legislation, which will then be open for comment for four or so weeks.
We would then expect a public consultation on a more detailed Impact Assessment sometime in 2021, followed by a new draft law which is due in 2022. This draft law would then need to be debated, amended, and agreed on, by the European Council and EU Member State governments.
A promising start, now we need delivery
CHEM Trust has been pushing for improvements to the ineffective EU laws governing food contact materials (FCM) for more than six years, and we welcome that these products have finally been given a clear priority in the EU’s overarching chemicals strategy.
The actions proposed by the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability also address many of the other concerns that CHEM Trust has been focussing on, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals, persistent and mobile chemicals like PFAS, mixture effects and neurodevelopmental toxicants. CHEM Trust welcomed the new strategy, but emphasised that the commitments in the strategy must be rapidly transformed into action in the real world.
Dr Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust said:
“CHEM Trust welcomes the priority given to improved regulation of chemicals in food contact materials in the Commission’s new Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.
These commitments will require a substantial reform of the current ineffective and unproductive laws covering chemicals in food packaging and other food contact applications – the Commission’s DG Santé now needs take this reform forward rapidly, to create a system that truly protects consumers and encourages innovation towards safer products.”
- For more information about this issue see our page on Chemicals in Food Contact Materials.