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NGO urges EU phase-out of hazardous chemical groups

Products - Food cans from above ©Nick Hazlewood

UK-based NGO CHEM Trust has called on EU regulators to "phase out" the use of groups of similar chemicals to prevent substitution of one hazardous substance with a related one that has similar properties.

In separate letters addressed to Echa, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), and the European Commission's Health Commissioner, the NGO says "the only exception to this should be if industry has good data showing the chemical they wish to use does not have the same properties as those of the chemical being restricted".

The letters coincide with the publication of a report which highlights the common industry practice of substituting bisphenol A (BPA) with bisphenol S (BPS), both of which, Echa’s risk assessment committee has said, may have similar toxicological profiles.

BPA is already on the REACH candidate list of SVHCs on three counts. Not only is it toxic to reproduction, but it also has endocrine-disrupting properties which cause probable serious effects to human health and the environment.

It is used in thermal paper till receipts – although that is facing a restriction from 2020 – as well as polycarbonate water bottles and food can linings.

Echa has started investigating BPS by asking industry for more safety data rather than regulating its use, CHEM Trust says.

Additionally, "as far as CHEM Trust is aware Efsa – responsible for assessing chemicals in food packaging – has not reexamined the toxicity of BPS or other bisphenols" the NGO says.

Report findings

According to the report – From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup? How companies switch from a known hazardous chemical to one with similar properties, and how regulators could stop them – most companies selling BPS are "claiming that it has no hazards".

The report shows that people and the environment are "not being properly protected from hazardous chemicals as businesses are moving from one problem chemical in a group to another," Michael Warhurst, CHEM Trust executive director said.

"We need EU regulators to phase out groups of chemicals of concern, rather than slowly restricting one chemical at a time. We cannot continue to gamble with people's health like this."

The report is published a year after CHEM Trust's No Brainer study, which reviewed the evidence that a number of chemicals, including BPA and BPS, might harm brain development in children.

Recommendations

The report lists five recommendations:

  • regulators should regulate groups of related chemicals, rather than take a substance by substance approach: this needs to be used in REACH and regulations such as laws on chemicals in food contact materials. Echa should also investigate the effectiveness of industry’s self-classification of chemicals, and whether this is being done in accordance with the legal requirements;
  • manufacturers must improve their own assessment of the safety of chemicals: it is "not acceptable", CHEM Trust says, to claim that a chemical like BPS has no hazards, when a very similar chemical is known to have substantial hazards, including endocrine disruption;
  • downstream users of chemicals should not replace one "problem chemical" with another similar chemical from the same group;
  • workers should ask whether they are being exposed to BPA or other bisphenols, and ask employers to move to safer non-bisphenol alternatives; and
  • consumers should ask retailers whether products such as plastic bottles, till receipts and food cans are bisphenol-free, and should ensure that children do not play with till receipts.

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