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A report published today by CHEM Trust highlights how chemicals in food and consumer products used in homes, schools and offices could harm brain development in children.

The impacts – which may include ADHD and lower IQ – are avoidable and can prevent children reaching their full potential says CHEM Trust, in No Brainer: The impact of chemicals on children’s brain development: a cause for concern and a need for action.

Researchers have shown that many thousands of people have been exposed to now largely-banned chemicals such as lead and PCBs at high enough levels to have harmed their brain function. Now there is growing concern about the impacts of exposures to many of the ‘new’ chemicals in our 21st century lifestyles.

Chemicals of concern include brominated flame retardants (BFRs), a group of chemicals added to furniture, electronics and building materials, per- and poly- fluorocarbons (PFCs), used for non-stick coatings or breathable coatings in everyday products including packaging and clothes. Some chemicals in these groups are being phased out, but similar chemicals remain in everyday use. [read more]

It is clear that some very powerful forces within the European Commission are working to undermine effective regulation of hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  On 20th December 2016, buried in the pre-Christmas wind-down, the Commission released its review of how EDCs should be treated by the authorisation process in the EU’s main REACH chemicals legislation.

The Commission missed its legal deadline for this review by over 3 years, and has significantly weakened the review text compared to an earlier draft that was discussed by EU government experts in July 2014. This is in spite of being reported as claiming, at that time, that it “does not intend to make further amendments to the document”, with this report also saying that the document was generally supported at that meeting.

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The EU’s REACH chemicals law aims to ensure that  chemicals are safely manufactured and used, so as to protect human health and the environment, at the same time as enhancing innovation and the competitiveness of EU industry. REACH includes requirements on companies to provide – and use – safety information on chemicals, and provides mechanisms to ban or control the use of particularly problematic chemicals.

REACH was passed just over 10 years ago, and came into force in June 2007. It was created after years of debate and investigation, and, like many EU laws, it is reviewed every five years in order to ensure that problems are identified and hopefully solved. The second five year review is underway now, and CHEM Trust have just submitted  our comments to the European Commission’s consultation.

We believe the focus of this review should be on increasing the efficiency of REACH and making it more effective in ensuring environment and health protection, and there are real opportunities to do this.

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We are all exposed to hundreds of man-made chemicals in our daily life, coming from everyday products including furniture, packaging and clothes. The aim of chemicals regulation is to try and establish which of these chemicals are dangerous, and then to put in place measures to ensure that they are used safely, or not used at all.

At the moment chemicals use in the UK is regulated through the EU’s main chemicals regulation REACH, but this may change if the UK leaves the EU. There are major risks to public health and the environment which could result from this change, as we know that we are all still exposed to hazardous chemicals, even in apparently innocuous products such as till receipts or furniture.

The Environmental Audit Committee of the UK House of Commons has just started an inquiry into this issue, “The Future of Chemicals Regulation after the EU Referendum. CHEM Trust will be submitting its views on this important issue, emphasising (i) the importance for public health & the environment of having effective regulation of chemicals; (ii) the role of REACH as a world-leading regulation system, even though it is not perfect; (iii) potential risks from the UK becoming detached from REACH, and the challenges of creating a new regulatory system.

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The long process of establishing EU criteria to identify hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs) continues to stutter forward, with a new proposed texts from the European Commission. These texts, coming just a few weeks since the last texts, fail to address our concerns regarding the burden of proof needed, and introduce a whole new loophole which aims to allow continued use of hormone disrupting chemicals as biocides and pesticides even if they might cause harm to wildlife. The texts are due to be discussed by EU Member States’ Government experts on 21st December (see Update below).

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Nearly 100 leading scientists from universities and research institutes around the world have joined forces to underline the urgent need for action on climate change and hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs). In a commentary, Let’s stop the manipulation of science, (also available in French), published by Le Monde last week, they warn that vested interests are wilfully distorting the science in both fields. They also underline that the tactic of ‘manufacturing doubt’ should not delay the measures that are urgently needed to protect our health and the environment.

The newspaper also carries three other articles focussing on the European Commission’s late-running process to decide on criteria to identify EDCs. One article alleges that the European Commission manipulated the conclusions of an EFSA report; the second that the European Commission is too dependant on industry-financed studies, and the third highlighting lobbying pressure from the US, Canada and the WTO.

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The long saga of Europe’s process to agree criteria to identify endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals (EDCS) has reached a new stage, with the European Commission publishing revised draft criteria, following extensive criticism of their previous draft. These draft criteria will be discussed today (Friday 18th November) by experts from EU countries. Unfortunately this new draft retains main of the problems in the previous one, and in CHEM Trust’s view it will not properly protect public health.

Last week CHEM Trust criticised this draft in a joint reaction with the EDCFree coalition, and we and the rest of the coalition have also shared our concerns in a letter to Ministries for Environment, Health and Agriculture.

Once the Member States have approved the proposals they will be voted on by the European Parliament, who are able to veto the Commission’s proposal. When agreed, the criteria will immediately apply in the regulation of pesticides and biocides, though both laws have derogations allowing continued use of particularly important chemicals. [read more]

The European Parliament has today overwhelmingly backed a report calling for substantial improvements in the laws covering the chemicals that are used in food packaging and processes, and which can leach into the food we eat. They also called for a ban on the use of the hormone disrupting chemical Bisphenol A in all food contact materials. [read more]

We spend up to 90% of our time indoors – in our homes, our offices or at school. However, studies show that indoor air can be more polluted and therefore worse for our health than air outdoors, as indoor air and dust can contain a number of worrying harmful chemical pollutants.

Stromcarlson Wiki

Image via Stromcarlson/Wikimedia

Children, particularly babies and toddlers playing on floors, are specifically  vulnerable to ingesting these pollutants through breathing in or eating dust.

Chemicals of concern include flame retardants, plasticisers and non-stick and water-proofing chemicals. Many are toxic and some are persistent (do not break down) and bioaccumulative (increase in concentration in our bodies and we do not tend to excrete them)’ there’s more information on these below.

It’s worth noting that the chemicals listed are just a selection of what is found in house dust – we are exposed to a complex cocktail of chemicals all the time, whether we like it or not.

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The European Commission is currently consulting on its proposed criteria to identify endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  In mid-June the European Commission proposed draft criteria, which CHEM Trust has strongly criticised for not adequately dealing with the threat to health and the environment from EDCs.

The proposals have also been criticised by EU governments, scientists and by the construction company Skanska for not being protective enough. CHEM Trust has today submitted its response to the consultation, which is open for comments until July 28th. [read more]