governmentchemist


Lack of harmony in chemicals regulation in Europe? by Nick Boley

These posts usually refer to legislation and regulation relating to chemical measurement, and related stories. This one goes in a different direction, and has been prompted by a paper arising from a study carried out by the Swiss Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) the Food Packaging Forum, as reported recently by Chemical Watch.

The study found that 175 chemicals known to be hazardous to health can be found in food packaging in the EU and the US. Some 21 of these have been recognised by the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, as being substances of very high concern (SVHCs) and six are actually listed in Annex XIV of REACH to be phased out from use, except by specific authorisation for use. Good examples of this are the chemicals diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) and 4,4’-methylene-dianiline (MDA). Many other chemicals found in food packaging are considered by the Swedish NGO ChemSec to be hazardous to health, including some which are known, or suspected, to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or endocrine disrupting.

What we can take from this, is that there is no specific regulation to prevent the use of these chemicals in materials which can come into contact with food, there is regulation to restrict or prevent their use electronic equipment, textiles and paints. Whilst we would readily support the use of risk assessment over hazard assessment concerning the use of such chemicals, and the risk of these chemicals leaching from packaging into the food we consume is not proven, logic tells us that there must be a greater risk of these substances getting into the bodies by ingesting these chemicals from foods than by exposure to them if they are present, in very low concentrations, in our mobile phones or computers.

This is, perhaps, an extreme example of where chemicals legislation in Europe appears not to be at all joined-up, with different sectors applying different rules and standards, which are sometimes at odds with each other and occasionally defy logic. Regulations covering the same chemical substances emanating from different Directorates-General of the European Commission where logic would dictate a strong degree of harmony do not show such harmony. This is confusing for consumers, and can increase the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in some cases. Experts are needed to decide which regulation applies to a specific situation, but why can’t we have a more consistent approach to chemicals regulation, that would be easier for consumers, manufacturers and those tasked with implementing them on a national level to understand?