EU chemicals safety: Harmful chemicals remain in circulation too long
Actually, dangerous chemicals in Europe should be strictly regulated. But usually many years go by until problematic substances are taken off the market, complain about environmental organizations.
The EU has one of the strictest chemicals policies in the world. Actually, the European authorities would have to react very quickly if they recognize substances as harmful. In reality, it sometimes takes more than ten years to limit the use of a problematic chemical.
For example, butanone oxime: In 2013, the EU chemicals regulator Echa decided to subject the substance to an extended review. Responsible was the German Federal Agency for Chemicals (BfC), which presented its 126-page evaluation report in June 2014. The substance, which is mainly mixed with wood stains and paints, is therefore possibly carcinogenic, consumers should not come into contact with it. The previous hazard classification must be tightened on the basis of the report.
The Germans drew up a scientific dossier and submitted it for discussion at EU level. In September 2018, the relevant committee finally commented. However, stricter security conditions should apply to butanonoxime at the earliest this year.
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Butanonoxime is no exception, as a report by the European Environmental Bureau EEB now shows. The EEB, an umbrella organization of some 150 environmental organizations across Europe, has analyzed how thoroughly the EU Chemicals Regulation is implemented. Above all, how quickly identified as problematic substances are regulated.
Around 24,500 chemicals are currently registered for use in Europe, for example in paints and thinners, in pesticides and plastics, in printer toners, coatings or flame retardants. Every year, the EU selects chemicals that are subject to an extended review because the substances are suspected of being harmful. In total, 352 chemicals were on the checklist at the end of last year.
According to the EEB evaluation, the results of the trials are sobering: by December, only 94 potentially hazardous substances had been fully investigated - 46 of which were not safe for current use in the EU. That's every second. Researchers concluded that more protective measures are required for these potentially hazardous substances.
But only for twelve of these chemicals did the EU authorities actually take appropriate action. The remaining 34 substances contain dangers, according to the scientists - but stricter rules have not yet been issued for them. These substances are therefore authorized in the EU although it is known that their use is not safe for EU citizens and / or the environment.
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The EEB speaks of a failure of European governments and warns of dramatic consequences: The widespread chemical pollution contributes to a "silent pandemic" of diseases, according to the report, a term that Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteur on dangerous substances and waste used when speaking to the UN General Assembly in October.
The authorities are not even reluctant. The process is very tedious: Member States decide only once a year which substances they are testing more closely. After that they have one year for the evaluation. If there is not enough data, ask for more information from the manufacturers. Until these are delivered, a lot of valuable time goes by regularly. Last year, the EU's chemicals agency Echa stated in a progress report that 74 percent of the information is missing "important safety information". Overall, the process for a single substance is seven to nine years. It may take another five to seven years for more harsh rules to take effect.
In case of doubt, exclude from market access
The suspicion that a chemical is unsafe until the EU authorities decide on stricter controls may take up to 16 years to allow the substance to end up in the environment.
The EEB chemical expert, Tatiana Santos, said the results of the analysis were very disturbing. "Millions of tons of hazardous substances are used unsafe in consumer and other products and are released into the environment." It requires the chemical industry to provide all the data when registering a new substance. In case of doubt, according to Santos, companies should be excluded from access to the European market.
The EEB deliberately published its report on April 2, because this Tuesday the UN is starting talks to significantly improve chemical safety by 2020. EU Europe has committed itself to these voluntary goals - but the EU Commission has already acknowledged that it will not achieve them.