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28th Feb 2024

Toxic chemicals found in one-in-five inspected products in the EU

  • About one-in-four toys — such as dolls, costumes, play mats and plastic figures — were found to be in breach of EU hazardous chemicals laws (picture purely representative, not these toys) (Photo: Pixabay)
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EU national agencies have found "excessive levels of hazardous chemicals," such as lead and plasticizers, in 18 percent of consumer products investigated.

According to a report published on Wednesday (13 December) by the EU chemical agency (ECHA), toxic chemicals were found in 400 of 2,400 products checked in 26 member states during last year.

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The most commonly-inspected products containing toxic chemicals were electrical devices, sports equipment, toys and fashion products.

About one-in-four toys such as dolls, costumes, play mats and plastic figures were found in breach of EU laws. Soft plastic and lead soldering points within electrical toys were the biggest issues.

The report highlights how importers and online marketplaces, including Amazon, have a higher rate of non-compliance with EU rules than manufacturers and distributors.

In 39 percent of cases, companies chose to voluntarily withdraw their products from the market — and also from their websites.

But inspectors from the various EU domestic agencies issued enforcement measures in a quarter of cases, triggering more formal and legally-binding actions to address non-compliance.

Fines were imposed in 18 percent of the cases.

And the 58 most serious cases were handed to the police or public prosecutor's office.

The investigation showed that companies did not comply with EU flagship chemical legislation REACH in 13-percent of the cases.

However, half of the infringements relate to rules for the use of certain hazardous chemicals in electrical and electronic equipment.

The 2020 EU's chemical strategy pledge to ban non-essential uses of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products.

Last week, the European Commission proposed to change three pieces of legislation to fast-track restrictions on the most hazardous chemicals.

The proposal also aims to increase cooperation between different EU agencies and improve the collection of data on chemicals found in people's bodies to better estimate levels of exposure.

"The new measures will shorten the gap between the identification of a possible risk and the necessary regulatory action," the commission said.

Similarly, campaigners argue that such legislative changes can help prevent situations like those associated with PFAS pollution.

"This way, we can detect problems early and protect ourselves and our planet ... It's crucial to keep harmful chemicals away from the things we use every day, and these proposals are a big step in the right direction," Tatiana Santos, head of chemicals policy at the European Environmental Bureau, told EUobserver.

But further efforts are required to address the ongoing challenges related to chemical pollution, Santos said, arguing that the EU Commission must carry out revisions to product policies, finally phase out non-essential uses of forever chemicals, and effectively enforce and implement existing regulations like REACH.

In November, an ECHA investigation also found toxic chemicals in childcare products such as nappies, car seats, bibs and baby-changing mats.

For nappies, the investigation showed that these products may include toxic chemicals and metals like cadmium, cobalt and lead.

In 2020, France proposed to restrict hazardous substances in single-use nappies.

However, the European Commission closed the procedure after the French authorities failed to present enough scientific evidence.

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