EU unveils plan for ‘biggest ever ban’ on hazardous chemicals | Environment


Thousands of potentially harmful chemicals could soon be banned in Europe under new restrictions, which campaigners have hailed as the toughest yet.

Earlier this year, scientists said chemical pollution had crossed a “planetary boundary” beyond which lies the degradation of global ecosystems.

Synthetic blight is believed to be pushing whale species to the brink of extinction and has been blamed for declining human fertility rates and 2 million deaths a year.

The EU’s ‘restrictions roadmap’ released on Monday was designed as a first step to transforming this picture by using existing laws to ban toxic substances linked to cancers, hormone disruption, reprotoxic disorders, obesity, diabetes and other diseases.

Industry groups say up to 12,000 substances could eventually fall within the scope of the new proposal, which would be the world’s “biggest ever ban on toxic chemicals”, according to the European Bureau of environment (EEB).

Tatiana Santos, head of chemicals policy at the office, said: “EU chemical controls are generally extremely slow, but the EU is planning the boldest detox we have ever seen. Petrochemical industry lobbyists are shocked by what is now on the table. It promises to improve the safety of almost any manufactured product and rapidly reduce the chemical intensity of our schools, homes and workplaces.

The plan focuses for the first time on entire classes of chemicals, including all flame retardants, bisphenols, PVC plastics, toxic chemicals in single-use diapers and PFAS, also known as of “eternal chemicals” due to time. they take to degrade naturally.

All of these will be put on a “living list” of substances to be considered for restriction by the European Chemicals Agency. The list will be regularly reviewed and updated, ahead of a major revision of the EU Reach Core Regulation for chemicals scheduled for 2027.

The chemicals identified in the new document include substances in food contact materials, single-use nappies and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in pellets for children’s play areas.

But industry groups say the program’s focus on chemical groups could affect high-street products such as sunscreen and perfumes, which can use a host of synthetic substances.

“Many different ingredients belong to the group of skin sensitizers, so a wide range of cosmetic products would potentially be affected,” said John Chave, managing director of Cosmetics Europe, a trade body. “The effect on consumers would be that there would potentially be less variety, less choice and less functional effectiveness for cosmetic products with no safety gains because the ingredients were safe in the first place.”

Beyond cosmetics, affected products could include paints, cleaners, adhesives, lubricants and pesticides.

Europe’s Reach system is already the world’s largest chemical register, and further bans could affect more than a quarter of the industry’s annual turnover, which amounts to around 500 billion euros (420 billion pounds) per year, according to research by trade group Cefic.

“Some of the restrictions can have a significant impact on industry and value chains,” said Cefic spokesperson Heather Kiggins.

The industry is advocating for a more targeted approach to restrictions, and for incentives and import controls to help develop safer alternative products.

Nevertheless, the European Chemicals Agency favors dealing with chemicals in groups, as chemical companies have previously avoided bans on individual chemicals by altering their chemical composition to create sister substances which can also be dangerous, but which require then long legislative battles to be regulated.

The industry tactic, known as “regrettable substitution”, has been criticized by environmental groups for allowing substances such as the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A to be replaced by other bisphenols.

Santos described it as “a cynical and irresponsible tactic by the chemical industry to replace the most harmful banned chemicals with equally harmful ones that are not yet on the regulatory radar. We have witnessed for decades a regrettable substitution pattern to avoid regulation.

Over 190 million synthetic chemicals are registered worldwide and a new industrial chemical is created every 1.4 seconds on average.

The UN says it expects the industry’s global value of more than $5bn (£3.9bn) to double by 2030 and quadruple by 2060.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said the new restrictions “aim to reduce exposure of people and the environment to some of the most harmful chemicals, addressing a wide range of their uses – industrial , professional and consumer products”.

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EU Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton said achieving a toxic-free environment would require transparency and visibility from the commission. “The Restrictions Roadmap provides such visibility and enables businesses and other stakeholders to be better prepared for possible upcoming restrictions,” he said.

Millions of tons of chemicals were used by industrial giants such as BASF, Bayer, Dow Chemicals and ExxonMobil without carrying out safety checks between 2014 and 2019, according to research by German environmentalists.

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