Information released by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) shows how exposure to toxic chemicals in the home and the working environment continues apace. And the numbers are shocking.
Research by ECHA showed levels of restricted phthalates above those permitted in the EU in 20% of inspected toys. Cadmium was present in 14% of brazing fillers, and asbestos fibres in 14% of articles such as vacuum flasks, brake pads and catalytic heaters. There were high levels of chromium VI in 13% of leather articles and cadmium in 12% of the jewellery assessed.
“Overall, most of the breaches were found with products, which had origins that could not be identified (39 % of such products did not comply), followed by products imported from China (17%),” the agency said in mid February.
One could say that the presence of restricted toxic chemicals in imported articles is an issue that lies outside the system Europe has established to register, evaluate and restrict the use of the chemicals that give most cause for concern. But the research shows that participants in the supply chain need to understand what toxic chemicals and materials are and how they might be present in the articles they make or sell.
“The non-compliance rates found for phthalates are very high considering that the phthalates restriction has been provided to protect children from harmful chemicals and it has been in force for many years now,” the ECHA said.
“The resulting non-compliance rate is high considering that the asbestos restriction has been in force in the EU for many years,” it added.
The presence of cadmium, nickel and lead in jewellery, clearly gives cause for concern and the research shows the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in some products. That is a problem in rubber or plastic articles that come into contact with the skin or are used in the mouth on a continuous or regular basis.
The results from this enforcement project show that there are significant amounts of “non-compliant products – products containing restricted substances – on the EU/EEA market,” the ECHA said.
“As the non-compliance relating to Reach restrictions is not something that can be seen by just looking at the product, the only way to get into more compliance is to influence and enhance the responsibility of companies in the supply chain.
“They need to get information on the chemical composition of products they buy from their suppliers, and they need to have such agreements in force in the supply chain, that it is not worth selling non-compliant products further in the supply chain.”
The agency added that national enforcement authorities need to keep analysing products on the market and to continue enforcing Reach restrictions.
“Effective and efficient implementation of Reach needs to continue forcefully and the various processes and actors need to come together to step up the efforts for meeting the ambitious objectives set by the legislator!” ECHA executive director, Bjorn Hanson says, in the latest Reach evaluation report.
FINAL DEADLINE IN MAY
The final Reach registration deadline, for substances sold on the EU market in volumes less than one tonne, is in May this year. It will sweep up low-volume chemicals into the registration, evaluation and authorisation process and possibly lead to some further product substitution. Companies are being advised now of how they might be able to continue to sell some substances from stock if they do not intend to register them under Reach, while supply chain users seek alternatives.
The progress report, however, shows that even though producers and their agents may have conscientiously registered chemicals they sell in the bloc, there are many gaps in the data.
Of 222 Reach registrations (of potentially problematic chemicals) that the ECHA checked last year, 151 needed further information.
Important safety information was missing, the ECHA says in its report, most related to pre-natal development toxicity, mutagenicity or genotoxicity, reproduction toxicity and long-term aquatic toxicity.
The report highlights the fact that registration is only the first step in the Reach process.
The ECHA points out that prior registrants are expected to update their registrations when new information becomes available. They have to justify their “weight of evidence” approach and provide “robust grouping and read-across arguments” relating to substance structures and potential toxicity.
The progress report, and the research into articles on the EU market, highlight just how complex Reach is and how difficult it has been making the system work.
The European Commission will, this year, let its view be known on how effective Reach has been at protecting human health and the environment as well as the perceived efficiency and implementation of the scheme.