EU pledges to renovate chemicals legislation

Figure: The new strategy will ensure a ‘toxic-free environment’.

Recently the European Commission published a new chemical strategy to regulate the production of hazardous chemicals and associated pollution by gradually banning their use in consumer goods.

On 14 October the European Commission implemented the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. This stringent program has been praised as the biggest reform of chemical regulations since Reach (registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals).

Figure: The new strategy will ensure a ‘toxic-free environment’.

The new strategy will ensure a ‘toxic-free environment’. Taking actions to encourage use of safer chemicals by industries, while enforcing a harsher stance on hazardous compounds that has the potential to pose a significant risk to human health or the environment.

The commission pledges to develop EU standards for ‘safe and sustainable-by-design’ chemicals and safeguard financial support for their commercialization and uptake. Inclusively, the EU wants to curtail the environmental footprint of chemicals in particular on climate change, resource use, ecosystems and biodiversity.

It is worth noting that the strategy also clamps down on some controversial groups of substances, such as endocrine disruptors (EDs). It will introduce legally binding ED identification criteria among all related EU laws, and an outright ban on EDs in consumer products the moment they are identified.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), will be barred in fire-fighting foams and any other uses except they are ‘essential for society’, the strategy vows.

The commission will evaluate and regulate the chemicals as a group, rather than separately, across relevant EU laws. And the EU will deliver research and innovation funding for PFAS substitutes under the Horizon Europe program.

Other initiatives under the strategy include:

  • A ‘one substance, one assessment’ approach to increase chemical testing transparency
  • Better access to data on chemicals and information tools for the general public
  • Pressure on international markets to improve chemical safety globally
  • Zero tolerance for non-compliance with Reach
  • New hazard classes covering environmental toxicity, persistency, mobility and bioaccumulation under the CLP (classification, labelling and packaging) regulation
  • Finding a way to address the combination effect to human health and the environment by daily exposure to a wide mix of chemicals from different sources
  • Extending Reach registration duties to certain polymers of concern

The European Commission plans to introduce all of these measures between now and 2024

Mixed reception

Experts, industry and environmentalists have widely acknowledged the strategy as a pivotal moment in chemicals regulation.

Camilla Alexander-White, Senior Policy Advisor for the Royal Society of Chemistry says, “It is clear that EU citizens’ concerns about chemical pollution, as well as the United Nations’ 2019 Global Chemicals Outlook II report – indicating pollution reduction goals have not been met, have strongly shaped the EU’s strategy here, promising urgent action and stronger EU regulation.”

“There is a recognition that Covid-19 has had a huge and unexpected impact on us all as individuals and on the economy and the strategy here provides some optimism that a green and sustainable economic recovery will be promoted by the EU,” Camilla added.