Study says industry undermines EU chemicals safety


With inadequate reporting of information, corporations are undermining European chemical safety and jeopardising the fundamental principle of the EU's chemicals law REACH “no data, no market”, according to a report by the environmental law group ClientEarth.

The report – REACH registration and endocrine-disrupting chemicals – is based on information made available by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) about five endocrine disruptors.

The five endocrine disruptors investigated in the report include diethyl phthalate, bisphenol A, tetrabromobisphenol A, triclosan and octyl-methoxycinnamate. They are used in a wide range of everyday products, including children’s toys and personal care products like sunscreens and deodorants. 

Companies that wish to bring chemicals to market have to provide ECHA with a report of the available scientific research and knowledge concerning the impacts of those chemicals on human health and the environment.

This includes gaps in knowledge, known as the principle of “no data, no market”.

The ClientEarth report found that the dossiers of the five endocrine disruptors did not include all available data, and, in some cases, to contain information that is not relevant, reliable or adequate.

ClientEarth said that these differences suggest that industry is not taking into account the body of knowledge on the substances and that the potential of the principle of “no data, no market” is not being used to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment.

Elizabeth Hiester, a lawyer for the London-based legal group, said that through registration, a company has to document how a substance, even if hazardous, can be used safely.

If the substance dossiers ignore or disregard much of the scientific progress made in the last 15 years, the objective of the whole system is undermined.

“Our research indicates that, for a number of substances known to have endocrine-disrupting properties, the dossiers are not of the quality required by REACH. Companies which register substances in this way should be held to account. Regulators charged with protecting human health need to take a more proactive approach in addressing these deficiencies,” Hiester stated.

New roadmap

Last week, ECHA published a new roadmap towards 2018, the next and last REACH registration deadline, to enhance the quality of information communicated in the exposure scenarios included in the REACH chemical safety reports and in the extended safety data sheets.

The actions cover how to improve the understanding among stakeholders on the purpose and use of the information in the exposure and information on how substances are used as an essential input to the chemical safety assessment and developing the associated IT tools.

Sylvie Lemoine from the Downstream Users of Chemicals Coordination Group (DUCC) said her organisation intends to actively contribute to the implementation of the roadmap.

"We have now five years ahead of us to come up with practical tools and recommendations for improvement. All actors, from industry and authorities alike, will need to work together to achieve the roadmap objectives and, ultimately, safer use of chemicals through their entire life cycle," Lemoine said.

The endocrine system is a network of glands which regulates and controls the release and levels of hormones in the body.

Hormones are chemical messengers that are essential for the body to carry out functions such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. Only a tiny amount of hormone may be needed to trigger the intended action.

The endocrine system is complex and the interactions within this system which regulate hormonal release are dependent on a variety of biological and psychological factors.

Scientific knowledge of this system is still growing.

Imbalances and malfunctions of the endocrine system can result in well-known diseases such as diabetes and obesity, infertility and certain types of cancer.

Also, disruption of the endocrine system can cause birth defects and learning disabilities.

  • Autumn 2013: Commission to publish new strategy on endocrine disruptors.
  • 2018: Next and last REACH registration deadline.

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