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29th May 2022

Thousands of toxic chemicals face EU restrictions

  • Industry groups say a total of 12,000 chemicals could fall under the new restrictions (Photo: Jay Caster)
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Thousands of potentially harmful chemicals still in use in food packaging, cosmetics, toys and buildings, could face restrictions soon, according to a new action plan unveiled by the European Commission on Monday (25 April).

The initiative comes after scientists warned chemical pollution had reached dangerous levels for humans and the planet — and has already been welcomed by campaigners as the "largest-ever ban of toxic chemicals" announced by the EU.

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The so-called Restrictions Roadmap presents an overview of the restrictions planned or under development, targeting several groups of chemicals that have become a source of concern in recent years.

These include flame retardants, which have been frequently linked to cancer, bisphenols, PVC plastics, toxic chemicals found in baby diapers, and PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals" because they are considered nearly indestructible.

Industry groups say a total of 12,000 chemicals could fall under the new restrictions.

But the commission argued that the roadmap will allow companies to anticipate and prepare for future restrictions, for example by beginning to assess the substitution of these substances in the manufacturing processes.

Environmentalists, for their part, consider the roadmap as the first test of the EU's sustainable chemical strategy, which was unveiled back in 2020 as part of the Green Deal.

"This 'great detox' promises to improve the safety of almost all manufactured products," said Tatiana Santos, a campaigner from the European Environmental Bureau.

The plan — for the first time — restricts groups of toxic chemicals as a rule, instead of assessing substances one-by-one.

And it is based on a 'rolling list' of substances that will be regularly reviewed and updated. Such list will be used by the European Chemicals Agency to introduce new restrictions until the EU's flagship Reach regulation is updated in 2027.

Nevertheless, EU member states can still propose new restrictions for substances not included in the list yet.

Under the revision of the Reach regulation, the commission wants to introduce bans on groups of harmful substances without the need to demonstrate an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment on a case-by-case basis.

EU member states have supported the roadmap as an interim solution until the extension of the generic approach to risk management is fully in place.

Earlier this year, the EU Commission committed to reducing pollution in air, water and soil to levels that are no longer harmful to human health and natural ecosystems by 2050.

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