Monday

27th Mar 2023

MEPs call to speed up curbs on toxic 'forever chemicals'

  • Some of these chemicals have been found in soil, drinking water, food, animals and even humans (Photo: Andrew Mason)
Listen to article

MEPs have raised concerns over the level of contamination of some hazardous chemicals in Europe, prompting calls to speed up the restrictions on so-called "forever chemicals".

Forever chemicals, technically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), earned this nickname because they are considered nearly indestructible.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Over recent years, some of these substances have become subject to scrutiny over their impact on the environment and human health.

A small group of these chemicals is already banned in the EU, since existing rules state that substance restrictions must be analysed on a case-by-case basis.

But the European Commission pledged to ban all PFAS as a group in 2020, under the EU chemicals strategy for sustainability.

"We need to recognise that the current level of micromanagement in REACH [Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals] authorizations cannot be maintained," said Kristin Schreiber, who leads the work on chemicals for the industry department of the EU commission.

Applying a generic approach to risk assessment, Schreiber said, is "crucial" to speed up the substitution of the most harmful chemicals for consumer and professional products.

Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are leading efforts to restrict the use of these chemicals, with a proposal expected by January 2023.

But an effective ban could take years to be in place because this is a group of more than 4,700 man-made chemicals which is widely used across dozens of industries — and the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) must assess all uses and possible alternatives with experts and industry players before coming forward with a scientific opinion.

Nevertheless, MEPs are calling for commitments on shortening deadlines.

"These chemicals are just building up in the food chain, so the faster we act, the more protection and less cancer we have," said liberal MEP Martin Hojsík.

Belgian MEP Maria Arena from the S&D group said that action is urgently needed because "PFAS pollution is increasing and becoming ever more dangerous".

In Belgium, PFAS pollution is a reality for many people living near Antwerp and Zwijndrecht — where high levels of one of these chemicals (PFOS) have been found in the soil and water close to a 3M factory.

But cleaning up PFAS contamination is very difficult and also very costly, according to Peter van der Zandt, director of risk management at ECHA.

"There are a lot of things we still do not know," said Green MEP Jutta Paulus, calling on the EU Commission to set up a special programme to find out the level of contamination in certain communities and ecosystems.

"There is a lot of drinking water of Europeans [...]in danger," she also warned.

Exposure to certain types of PFAS has been often related to health problems. They can cause, for example, fertility issues, issues with the development of foetuses, cancer or hormonal disruptions.

Opinion

Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy

It is of utmost concern to the environmental health community that forces within the EU Commission are actively trying to push back against a European Green Deal that is supposed to put people's health at its core.

Opinion

Will EU Commission capitulate to toxic chemicals industry?

The sharks are circling around the REACH proposal on 'forever chemicals' and there are rumours that it could be dropped from the commission's agenda. If true this would be a major coup for the chemicals industry and its political allies.

Opinion

Why can't we stop marches glorifying Nazism on EU streets?

Every year, neo-Nazis come together to pay tribute to Nazi war criminals and their collaborators, from Benito Mussolini to Rudolf Hess, Ante Pavelić, Hristo Lukov, and of course Adolf Hitler, in events that have become rituals on the extreme-right calendar.

Latest News

  1. Biden's 'democracy summit' poses questions for EU identity
  2. Finnish elections and Hungary's Nato vote in focus This WEEK
  3. EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict
  4. Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all
  5. Von der Leyen pledges to help return Ukrainian children
  6. EU leaders agree 1m artillery shells for Ukraine
  7. Polish abortion rights activist vows to appeal case
  8. How German business interests have shaped EU climate agenda

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality
  5. Promote UkraineInvitation to the National Demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine on 25.02.2023
  6. Azerbaijan Embassy9th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting and 1st Green Energy Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us