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Chemical Watch has reported that officials from Europe and the US are planning to have a formal meeting on 15th October 2014 to discuss increased co-operation on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

This comes as there are increased concerns among many that the EU-US “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” (TTIP), currently being negotiated, may undermine the regulation of EDCs in Europe. CHEM Trust has already joined with a large number of other groups to call for chemicals to be excluded from TTIP.

This meeting – which isn’t ‘for the time being’ part of the TTIP trade negotiations – has been welcomed by the chemical industry, according to Chemical Watch.

CHEM Trust is rather less convinced:

However, NGOs in Europe have expressed their concerns about the impacts of any formal co-operation between the EU and US on endocrine disruptors.

Gwynne Lyons, policy director of ChemTrust and a nominated stakeholder expert of the Echa endocrine disruptor expert group, says: “The EU process is moving very slowly already, and regulatory collaboration with the US can only make things worse. The US system has failed to regulate chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, effectively, so the US will almost certainly be a barrier to progress,” she adds.

Ms Lyons says co-operation on developing test methods and prioritisation methodology might sound useful, but there is a “hidden agenda to make sure only the most potent, and probably no longer used, chemicals fall under a blunted regulatory axe”

CHEM Trust, with over 20 other European civil society organisations, have today sent a letter to the President-Elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. In the letter we propose that the next Commission adopts a revised model of scientific advice, rather than the current single ‘Chief Scientific Officer’ approach.

The link between science and policy – and how uncertainty is understood and acted on – are key issues for any government or similar organisation. Many aspects of science are well understood, but in many areas of great controversy the science is subject to great uncertainty and dispute.

Science moves forward through such debate, with ideas that are now well established – like plate tectonics or the idea that most stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria – widely dismissed when they were first proposed. The debate continues in many other areas, such as on the risk of hormone disrupting chemicals, nanotechnology or the role of statins in preventative medicine.

One of the best examples of government failure when dealing with scientific uncertainty was in the UK, after a new disease had appeared in cattle – Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). One major question was whether this disease could spread to humans. For some years it was claimed that this was impossible, until the government in 1996 had to admit that in fact a new human disease, vCJD, was caused by exposure to BSE. They also had to admit that the public had not been properly protected from exposure to BSE; this disease has killed more than 100 people.

BSE and vCJD were a major failure of government, and led to a very extensive public enquiry, published in 2000, reviewing the failings that lead to the spread of CJD. Many recommendations where made on how to prevent this sort of case happening again.

The inquiry’s conclusions on scientific committees & on uncertainty are particularly relevant to the Commission Scientific Advisor discussions, notably:

  • The composition of the committee should include experts in the areas of the advice that is likely to be required.
  • Trust can only be generated by openness.
  • Openness requires recognition of uncertainty, where it exists.
  • The importance of precautionary measures should not be played down on the grounds that the risk is unproved.
  • Scientific investigation of risk should be open and transparent.
  • The advice and the reasoning of advisory committees should be made public.

Contrast this with the role of the Commission Scientific Advisor, who is one individual – not a committee with varying expertise and experience – but seems to have the power to over-rule other scientific advisory bodies. In addition, the current holder of the position – Anne Glover – believes that this post should operate in secret, with no disclosure of what the advisor is being asked to consider, nor of the advice they have given:

Anne Glover, the EU’s Chief Scientific Advisor, has said that her opinions to the European Commission should remain independent from politics and therefore “not transparent” and immune from public scrutiny.”

As the letter points out, we – and many others – believe that any advice should be published, and that the Commission’s scientific advice shouldn’t be concentrated in one person, however good a scientist they are.

Update on 2nd September:

ENDS Europe’s coverage of the letter has a link to this blog.

Chemical analysis has found that some loom bands & charms have very high levels of phthalates in them – well over 50% in the case of some charms. As the analysts themselves say:

 The latest loom bands craze in particular is throwing up some alarming results considering these products are so child appealing”

Loom bands – an astoundingly popular craze with children – are elastic bands that are woven together to make bracelets and other items. Sometimes they have ‘charms’ attache to them as extra decoration. Due to their popularity, there are now many different brands available in the shops.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals with similar (though not identical) properties. EU regulations currently restrict 6 phthalates to a maximum of 0.1% in toys, while other phthalates are restricted in items that can go in the mouth of children. It is clear that loom bands (or at least their charms) are breaching this regulation.

Phthalates aren’t just causing concern in Europe – for example in the US a scientific panel recently expressed their concern about the impact some phthalates could be having on male reproductive organ development.

However, consumers have no information as to which brands of bands exceeded the EU limits for phthalates – the analysts state:

“Unfortunately due to customer confidentiality we are unable to publish news on the brands that failed.”

This means that, other than the companies who have commissioned these tests, other retailers and the general public have no information as to which brands are a problem. There is no visible effort to withdraw the phthalate-laden toys from shops, nor to notify the public to stop using the affected products

It’s in Ireland that these results have received most coverage, but no regulatory action has happened up until now.

We have regulations that are supposed to protect us from hazardous chemicals, yet this case – and others – show that these are not being properly monitored and enforced.

These products should be being withdrawn from the market, and both Governments and retailers need to act now!

 Update, 14th August 2014:

The Daily Mail has now covered this story, including some new pieces of information:

  • All 16 packs of ‘unofficial’ charms tested had >0.1% phthalates, with two having >50%
  • The tests were done for retailers and trading standards offices
  • The spokesperson for the lab – Birmingham Assay Office – makes the point that “The worrying thing is the charms are the bits that are most likely to end up in children’s mouths
  • A spokesperson for the Trading Standards Institute: “I would warn parents to be vigilant about loom bands – only buy from respected shops, not off market stalls, and look for a UK distributor’s address on the packing as well as a CE mark. Don’t allow your children to put them in their mouths.

This story re-affirms the fact that the current system of monitoring – mainly local authority trading standards offices in the UK – does not have the resources to properly protect consumers.

Update 2, 18th August 2014:

The Daily Mirror has now covered the story, including a quote from CHEM Trust:

The Chem Trust – which exists to help protect people and animals from dangerous chemicals – was worried by the research.

“It is clear that loom bands, or at least their charms, are breaching this regulation,” the Trust’s Dr Michael Warhurst said.

Update 3, 2nd September 2014:

The UK toy retailer “The Entertainer” last week removed loom band charms from its shelves, following the discovery of high levels of phthalates in them – here’s coverage of the story in the Independent.

Carmarthenshire Council’s Trading Standards get a pat on the back for organising testing of loom band charms in their area & emphasising the safety advice above – respected shops, CE mark & don’t allow children to put them in their mouths.

An article in Wales online on 17th August quoted CHEM Trust’s views on this issue:

The Chem Trust – which exists to help protect people and animals from dangerous chemicals – was worried by the research.

“It is clear that loom bands, or at least their charms, are breaching this regulation,” the Trust’s Dr Michael Warhurst said.

“Phthalates aren’t just causing concern in Europe – for example in the US a scientific panel recently expressed their concern about the impact some phthalates could be having on male reproductive organ development.”

Getting dangerous products off the shelves is down to council’s trading standards departments.

“Other than the companies who have commissioned these tests, other retailers and the general public have no information as to which brands are a problem,” Dr Warhurst said.

“There is no visible effort to withdraw the phthalate-laden toys from shops, nor to notify the public to stop using the affected products.”

Dr Warhurst feared there not enough trading standards officers to look into the problem.

“We have regulations that are supposed to protect us from hazardous chemicals, yet this case – and others – show that these are not being properly monitored and enforced.

“These products should be being withdrawn from the market, and both governments and retailers need to act now.”

Do Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) have a safe limit?

One of the big debates about endocrine disrupting chemicals is: Is there a threshold (a ‘safe level’) below which they don’t disrupt the endocrine (hormone) system?

The European Commission set up an expert advisory group on Endocrine Disrupters in 2011; CHEM Trust are part of this group. At their 5th meeting in February 2013 the experts discussed key scientific uncertainties when trying to determine thresholds for EDCs

The EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has finally published a report of this meeting, “Thresholds for Endocrine Disrupters and related Uncertainties”, which looks at the threshold issue in depth. Some key points from the report:

  • Most of the experts in the group agreed that thresholds of adversity for EDCs may be very low or absent during early development
  • Several experts also highlighted that it may be very difficult to determine thresholds with the current available standard tests.
  • Thresholds determined in laboratory experiments are not equivalent to the true biological threshold, as a study with more sensitive endpoints may lead to a lower threshold. This calls into question the reliability of current risk assessment approaches
  • Additional relevant uncertainties discussed ranged from low dose effects, non-monotonic dose response curves to mixture effects and critical windows of exposure.

Chemical Watch covered the report, including comments from CHEM Trust director Gwynne Lyons:

“The [JRC] report is a very considered piece,” says Gwynne Lyons, director of NGO ChemTrust and a member of the Endocrine Disruptors Expert Advisory Group (ED EAG). She highlights the fact that “several experts said that although thresholds may exist, it is going to be difficult to measure them with any confidence, given current test methods.”

Some NGOs are concerned that the lack of clarity in establishing whether or not thresholds exist may lead to lengthy delays in substituting EDCs. The review document quotes extensively another ED EAG report on identifying EDCs, which also covers thresholds (CW 25 March 2013).

Ms Lyons is now fearful that ECHA’s Risk Assessment Committee (Rac) “will ignore the carefully considered voice of the experts”.  “I think they will just have an eye on the difficulty of regulating, or requiring, industry to find safer alternatives and just go along with the normal risk assessment, using the outdated test methods that are not well targeted to pick up endocrine disruptors,” she says.

In CHEM Trust’s view, in the absence of evidence that thresholds exist, the EU and others should treat EDCs as non-threshold substances and work to ensure that they are substituted with safer alternatives.

Fracking – CHEM Trust’s position

Fracking remains in the news – in the United Kingdom and also around the world.

Much has been written about the carbon balance of fracking, for example the risks of fugitive emissions of methane, and the simple reality that taking more fossil fuels out of the ground will simply increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

However, the potential pollution caused by fracking shouldn’t be forgotten – and it’s worth pointing out that CHEM Trust already has a position paper on fracking, (from January 2013) which concludes:

CHEM Trust has severe concerns about fracking in the UK, particularly because of its potential for intractable pollution of water resources. CHEM Trust’s focus is on the pollution aspects of the technology, as its mission is to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals. Therefore, the potential long term environmental contamination and possible health effects of fracking are the focus of this briefing.

We conclude that widespread fracking in the UK would pose a considerable threat, particularly to water resources.

One of our Directors, Gwynne Lyons, also wrote a blog on fracking on the Green Alliance web site in October 2013, and called for:

  1. A moratorium on fracking in the UK, until there has been full public disclosure of all the chemicals used and the companies involved have provided adequate data on their hazard profiles, and undertaken a full assessment of all the potential health and environmental effects. Unfortunately, since full disclosure isn’t required in the US, there is a lack of information about the full range of dangerous chemicals which may be used.
  2. No fracking near potable groundwater sources, in National Parks, or on or near environmentally sensitive areas or sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).
  3. Extensive air, land and water monitoring in the vicinity prior to and during operation, including vigilance for emerging health effects in residents, livestock and wildlife.
  4. Detailed and ongoing inspection of operations by experts in geology and ground water protection to ensure proper disposal of all chemicals, including contaminated water, muds and other wastes.
  5. Companies undertaking fracking should have to deposit bonds sufficient to cover any future compensation claims. Measures to enforce the polluter pays principle are necessary to ensure that the proper checks and balances are in place.

CHEM Trust – along >15 other environment groups – have welcomed the European Chemical Agency’s video which encourages people to find out about the chemicals in products they buy.

The video has been criticised by UK Chemical Business Association, but in our view it is a creative way of engaging people in this important issue.

In our joint letter to the European Chemical Agency we also suggest that the agency should provide consumers with a model letter, to help them find out about chemicals in products. Similar letters are already available from the UBA in Germany, and from HEAL.

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world. SAICM has as its overall objective the achievement of the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle so that, by 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

CHEM Trust is very supportive of SAICM’s work, and we have just submitted our views into a discussion about environmental pollution from pharmaceutical products (medicines).

Pharmaceutical chemicals are widely used globally for therapeutic purposes, including the treatment of disease in humans, as well as in domesticated companion animals and in livestock used for food production. Residues from pharmaceuticals can persist in the environment and residues can now be found in drinking water. They are also found in fish and other organisms in the wild, where they may accumulate.

More than 630 different pharmaceutical chemicals have been found to occur in the natural environment; some may have endocrine disrupting activity or other toxic effects.

In CHEM Trust’s view, pharmaceutical pollutants should be accepted as a global emerging issue under SAICM, so as to foster international exchange on the best ways to tackle this growing problem.

The brominated flame retardant (BFR) Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) has been used for decades and has turned out to be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT). It has been detected in humans, the environment and wildlife worldwide, including in remote areas. It has been on the REACH candidate list for 6 years and governments around the world have listed it for global phase-out under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.

HBCDD will be banned for use in Europe as from 21.08.2015 unless an ‘authorisation’ is granted for a specific use. Earlier this year, an industry consortium of manufacturers of expanded polystyrene applied for authorisation to the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to  obtain permission for the continued use of HBCDD as a flame retardant in insulation building material in the EU.

CHEM Trust has submitted comments to the public consultation of the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) arguing that this application for authorisation should be denied. REACH makes it clear that releases of HBCDD need to be avoided unless these result from a use which is crucial for society.  In CHEM Trust’s view the applicant has not made a convincing case that the socio-economic benefits would outweigh the risks, and that no safer alternatives are available.

Other organisation’s responses to this consultation are here, and Chemical Watch has covered the story, including CHEM Trust’s comments.

The European Union (EU) and US are currently negotiating a new trade deal – the  Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,  or TTIP for short. CHEM Trust – and many others – are worried that this deal could weaken controls on chemicals, particularly within Europe.

We’ve got together with over 100 NGOs from Europe and the US to send a letter to the US Trade Representative Michael Froman and EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, asking for them to exclude the chemical sector from the TTIP negotiations.

In CHEM Trust’s view proposals for enhanced regulatory cooperation would threaten to chill or even freeze forward-looking chemical regulations and their implementation. The presence of toxic chemicals in our food, our homes, our workplaces, and our bodies is a threat to present and future generations, with staggering costs for society and individuals. Chemical industry-driven proposals for TTIP would neither reduce these costs nor increase the efficiency or effectiveness of regulators on either side of the Atlantic.

For more information on chemicals & TTIP, see our joint briefing with HEAL.

Coverage in the Nigerian Guardian of 10th July 2014

SCIENTISTS have raised fresh alert over the proliferation of food packaging that contains hazardous chemicals associated with increasing cases of cancer, infertility and birth defects.

The scientists in one of two independent but separate studies suggest that the chemical, Bisphenol-A (BPA), changes how genes function in the mammary glands of rats exposed in their mother’s womb, leaving them more vulnerable to breast cancer later in life.”

Elizabeth Salter Green, of the campaign group CHEM Trust, said the EU was trying to tighten up the regulation of gender-bending chemicals but the UK was in favour of the least stringent measures.

She added: “This report bears testimony to the on-going failure of regulatory agencies to reduce exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals, which are implicated in the increased rates of hormone-related cancers and other diseases.

“Thankfully, the EU is now trying to come to agreement on how to identify such hormone disrupting chemicals, so that they can be effectively regulated, but unfortunately the UK is trying to thwart this process in a bid to limit the number of chemicals that will fall under the regulatory axe.