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Brexit Risk Tracker highlights concerns about protection of our health & environment from hazardous chemicals

On Friday 23rd June, a year after the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU, the Greener UK coalition – of which CHEM Trust is a member – published their first ‘Brexit Risk Tracker‘. Most of the UK’s environmental protection rules are based on laws that have been agreed at EU level, so by leaving the EU, the UK risks losing these protections. The Risk Tracker, assembled by a group of environmental NGOs, assesses which policy areas are of particular concern.

CHEM Trust has analysed the situation regarding chemicals policy and concludes that there is a high risk to environment and health protection, as the UK Government has not committed to the UK staying within these highly sophisticated and world-leading EU regulations.

CHEM Trust’s detailed analysis leading to this conclusion is available on the Greener UK site here; these are the key elements:

Both the minister responsible for chemicals policy (REACH), Thérèse Coffey, and the minister responsible for pesticides regulation, George Eustice, have suggested weakening EU laws. Coffey’s evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee was clear on her wish not to follow fully EU restrictions on chemicals, and also argued for a more ‘risk based’ approach. George Eustice also called for an end to hazard-based action on pesticides, including at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2016, within a week of the prime minister’s speech calling for EU standards to be maintained. In addition, there is no clarity as to how the precautionary principle, a key aspect of EU chemicals policy, will be incorporated into UK law after Brexit.

Because of the centralised nature of the REACH system, with a single database of chemical safety, the fact that this database is not fully available to countries that are outside REACH, and the expense and legal complexity that has gone into creating this database, it is not possible for the UK to copy this database. The UK is very unlikely to have the capacity to create a domestic equivalent of REACH because of the centralisation of the REACH process and the lack of any sensible method of creating a new database of similar quality. Any UK system would be based on more limited safety and use data and would almost inevitably be less protective.

CHEM Trust Executive Director Dr Michael Warhurst said:

“It is vital that a post-Brexit Britain has an effective system to protect people and the environment from hazardous chemicals, such as those that can accumulate in our bodies or disrupt our hormones.

The EU’s system, REACH, is the best in the world, recently banning problematic chemicals in products as diverse as till receipts and waterproof coats. However, it is basically impossible for REACH to be copied by the UK, and the Government has not committed to staying within it.

Any attempt to create a new UK system would be both much more expensive and much less effective than REACH, threatening the protection of people and the environment.”

For more details about CHEM Trust’s concerns, see our blog on the recent report from the UK House of Common’s Environmental Audit Committee, and our written evidence to the committee.