topic of the month
Chemicals in consumer productsGeert Dancet – Executive Director, European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
The European Chemicals Agency is the driving force among regulatory authorities in implementing the EU's groundbreaking chemicals legislation for the benefit of human health and the environment as well as for innovation and competitiveness.
Consumers can visit the ‘Information on Chemicals’ section of ECHA’s website to view our public database on chemicals. Here, they can find information on the chemical substances, contained in mixtures they purchase, that are classified by the EU or self-classified by industry as hazardous in one or more respects and should be labelled accordingly.
In the public interest, ECHA is working together with the European Commission, Member States and stakeholders to identify and assess new chemicals of concern that merit regulatory action. These substances raise concerns that are equivalent to CMRs (Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, toxic for Reproduction), PBTs (Persistent, Bioaccumulative, Toxic) or vPvBs (Very Persistent, Very Bioaccumulative). They include endocrine disruptors, which may interfere with the human hormonal system and cause adverse health effects.
Anne-Sofie Andersson – Director ChemSec
Endocrine disrupting chemicals are widespread in our surroundings and increasingly linked to health and environmental concerns, including reproductive disorders, cancers, cognitive disorders, obesity and diabetes. These chemicals can influence our health already at minute doses and whereas everyone is exposed to an unknown mixture of such chemicals through the products we use every day, consumers have no possibility to protect themselves.
The coming year will be decisive for the protection of consumers in Europe from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The European Union is due to adopt criteria for endocrine disruptors which among other things will define when a chemical can be regarded as an EDC. We believe that it is very important that these criteria will be as broad as possible in order to protect human health and the environment.
Further, if more endocrine disruptors were listed on the REACH candidate list, responsible companies would try to replace them in their consumer products. Therefore it is needed that all stakeholders work jointly towards the realisation of broad criteria and listing of EDCs on the candidate list to protect future generations.
Hubert Mandary – Director-General, The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC)
Consumers expect access to quality, fit-for-purpose, safe, fairly-priced goods. The chemical industry's products make it possible for these expectations to be met.
A debate is resurfacing at the moment around endocrine disruptors – chemicals that interact with the body's hormone system and have an adverse health effect as a result. We know that a lot of naturally-occurring substances interfere with our endocrine system, whether in coffee, chocolate or beer. So can certain man-made chemicals. Those which interact in a disruptive way with our hormone system should never be in consumer products in amounts that could harm our health. Science and transparency will be of more help in this debate than fear-mongering. Within the OECD framework, our industry has already proposed how to assess and act on these substances based on robust science to ensure that consumers can trust in the safety of our products.
Claus Jørgensen – Forbrugerrådet/Danish Consumer Council
Many of the chemicals that we use in everyday products are suspected of being endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The EU holds a list of almost 600 chemicals which have shown endocrine disrupting effects; almost 200 of them when tested on animals. The Danish Consumer council is actively trying to have these chemicals banned in consumer goods.
It is true that we cannot without a doubt say that if humans are exposed to these chemicals they will suffer from endocrine disruptions. One of the difficulties in trying to regulate EDCs is that the effects do not become visible right away. For instance, the effects of exposure during pregnancy might not become evident until nine months after the baby is conceived, or maybe even 30 years later, when the grown-up person cannot reproduce himself because of low sperm counts.
But in recent years scientists have shown that some chemicals show effects on animals. Scientists have also provided evidence for the ‘cocktail effect’, which concludes that even in very low doses, some chemicals can cause endocrine disruption.
At the Danish Consumer Council we call for a ban of EDCs because the benefit of the doubt should apply to protect the consumer, not the chemical industry. If a chemical is not absolutely necessary (need to have), but only ‘nice to have’, but does have endocrine properties when tested on animals, it should be banned, until the producers can provide evidence showing that the chemical in question causes no harm to human health or the environment.
Dr. Ralph Heinrich Ahrens – freelance print (e.g. Chemical Watch and VDI nachrichten) and radio (e.g. Deutschlandfunk, Deutsche Welle, WDR) journalist
An end to toxics!
I have clear expectations when I go shopping: food, toys, textiles or floor covering should not sicken me or my child. Therefore they should not contain toxic substances.
This may sound self-evident, but it is certainly not always the case. An example: Time and again, endocrine disrupting substances like phthalates or bisphenol A (BPA) are found in plastic toys. All of this may be legal, but these chemicals can leak and stunt the healthy development of our babies and infants.
So what can be done? Two things: If scientists discover a substance to be poisonous, I expect companies to substitute this substance with a safe alternative as quickly as possible, irrespective of their accordance with the law. Secondly, as a consumer I want to be able to make conscious decisions about the products I buy. For that I need to know what a product is made of. If for instance a company thinks it needs to use BPA, the least it should do is inform me. If companies don’t do this voluntarily, lawmakers should make it compulsory.