At the end of March, rules to introduce new hazard classes for the classification, labelling and packaging of substances in the EU were published. This is a very important milestone towards much better protection from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) as it also includes a new category of suspected endocrine disruptors.
Until recently it has been unclear what action the UK Government would take in response. However, the government has now indicated that it’s unlikely to adopt new EU classifications unless and until they are adopted at the international level, a process that could take several years. In our view, unless the UK adopts similar measures to the EU in its soon to be released Chemicals Strategy, it risks very significant divergence from EU protections and could open the door to GB consumers, workers and the environment having greater exposure to harmful EDCs than in the EU.
Why is the EU taking action on EDCs?
The EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS), which was published in 2020, set out a package of measures to minimise exposure to EDCs. EDCs were particularly singled out in the strategy due to the impact that they have on human health alongside the fact that their use in consumer products is on the rise. Scientific studies have linked exposure to EDCs to infertility and reproductive issues, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and breast, testicular and prostate cancers. Their use also represents a serious risk to wildlife and has been associated with a number of worrying changes including: the thinning of birds’ egg shells, male fish acquiring female traits, and reptiles with malformed genitals. Alongside the introduction of new hazard classes for EDCs, the CSS also committed to ban endocrine disruptors in consumer products and strengthen worker protection by introducing EDCs as a category of ‘substances of very high concern’ under REACH.
What approach is the UK taking?
The UK Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan confirmed that the UK Chemicals Strategy will set out its approach to the management of endocrine disrupting chemicals. However, we are concerned that the approach will diverge significantly from how the EU is tackling these health harming chemicals.
In response to a recent Parliamentary Question, the Government confirmed there “are no plans” to establish new hazard classes in the GB CLP Regulation without adoption by the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of the classification and labelling of chemicals (UN GHS). The EU is chairing a new working group at the UN GHS to try to reach agreement on the global implementation of these new classifications. However, this process is likely to take several years, leaving people in the UK less protected than our EU neighbours.
While the UK Government has acknowledged the connection between EDCs and human health and wildlife impacts – in response to a Parliamentary Question and a letter from Minister Pow – it also cited evidence gaps and uncertainties. Harm caused by EDCs on human health and the environment has been known for more than twenty years and this evidence has guided legislative action in the EU. Acting on evidence of harm, even where there are uncertainties (following the precautionary principle), is hugely important, and needs to be guiding legislative action on EDCs in the UK.
CHEM Trust’s recommendations
The UK Government needs to take the opportunity to outline a more ambitious approach to EDCs in its upcoming Chemicals Strategy. CHEM Trust recommends the strategy includes:
- A plan to address EDCs including criteria to systematically identify EDCs and suspected EDCs, as well as specific measures and timelines to minimise and phase out exposure
- A ban on EDCs and suspected EDCs in consumer products
- Consideration of EDCs as non-threshold substances.
Read more about our recommendations for the Chemicals Strategy here.
Chloe Topping, Assistant Campaigner at CHEM Trust said:
“While the UK Government has stated an ambition to be a world leader in environmental protection, we have yet to see this put into action on the issue of endocrine disrupting chemicals. We very much hope the forthcoming Chemicals Strategy will set out the actions the Government will take to protect people and wildlife from exposure to these chemicals, including bringing in measures that match the ambition already seen in the EU.”