Chemicals are all around us: in clothes, food, cosmetics, furniture and more. Unfortunately, not all of them are safe. Consumer organisations like ANEC have long been concerned about the use of hazardous chemicals in consumer products and call for stricter chemical requirements in product legislation and standards. Still, hundreds of chemicals which are potentially dangerous for health and the environment can nonetheless be found in many consumer products today.
The most important issues for ANEC to monitor and follow-up in the field of chemicals in consumer products is to ensure a high level of protection to consumers and the environment against exposure to hazardous chemicals in products. ANEC has stressed the importance of a complete ban on such chemicals or, if this is not possible, for strict limit values for chemicals in products to be set by legislators (and not delegated to standardisers). In particular, ANEC highlights the flaws of the current EU regulation in place regarding hazardous chemicals.
The present specific European regulatory provisions for chemicals in (consumer) products do not go far enough. They are either inadequate or missing:
- Inadequate because of serious gaps - as in food contact materials where only plastics materials are comprehensively regulated; or in the absence of clear limits (medical devices), or lack of a high level of protection (toys);
- (almost) non-existent for many everyday products, such as clothing, furniture, floor coverings, personal protective equipment, child care articles, sports equipment, construction products, car interiors.
Our position paper “Hazardous chemicals in products - The need for enhanced EU regulations” suggests a roadmap on achieving a strategy to address chemicals in products comprehensively. Our paper explores how current regulatory requirements can be enhanced and outlines a programme for key consumer product areas. In addition, the paper lists some other product areas for investigation as a second priority. A summary is also available.
ANEC developed its standpoint asking for the development of a European regulatory framework for chemicals in products, following its longstanding activity in the area and the findings of high consumer concern resulting from three studies of the ANEC Austrian member, the Consumer Council of ASI.
In the past 6 years ANEC and ASI Consumer Council organised three joint conferences in collaboration with national and European authorities in order to identify the way forward in specific priority areas to achieve an adequate European regulatory framework to address hazardous chemicals in consumer products in a consistent systematic manner:
- Roundtable hosted by MEP Christel Schaldemose in March 2015 on “Less hazardous chemicals in our products - For a non-toxic Europe”
- Conference on “Hazardous chemicals in products - The need for enhanced EU regulation” in October 2013. Videos and further conference material can be accessed at the conference website.
- Conference on “How to eliminate hazardous chemicals from consumer articles?” in October 2011 (with BEUC). We then addressed gaps in the current European regulatory framework for consumer products and identified some options for improvement.
Since 2015, ANEC became an accredited stakeholder organisation of the European Chemicals Agency.
In 2016, the European Commission launched a regulatory “fitness check” in order to evaluate the (non-REACH) legislative framework for chemicals, in particular the CLP (Classification & Labelling of Products) Regulation and other legislation. ANEC responded to several questionnaires and in the ANEC-BEUC Position Paper: Regulatory fitness check of Chemicals legislation except REACH - A consumer view we highlighted the risk this “fitness check” exercise is used as a pretext to eliminate important legislative provisions which exist to protect consumers, workers and the environment from hazardous chemicals.
ANEC applauded the 7th Environmental Action Programme to 2020 for its recognition of the need to assess and minimise ‘risks for the environment and health, in particular in relation to children, associated with the use of hazardous substances, including chemicals in products’ by 2020. As advocated earlier by ANEC and BEUC, the EU institutions identified chemicals in products as an action point for the 7EAP. This ambitious approach is in line with our call on the 7EAP to focus on the interrelation of environmental and health concerns, highlighting the need for a community approach to address chemicals in consumer products in a consistent systematic manner.
We see the planned strategy for a non-toxic environment as a crucial opportunity to fill the gaps we identified in regulatory chemical requirements for consumer articles that in our view need either to be implemented or revised as soon as possible.
Chemical requirements in the Food Contact Materials Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 are inadequate because only plastics materials are comprehensively regulated, and even this with significant gaps related to colorants, solvents or printing inks. ANEC 2014 position paper 'Hazardous chemicals in products - The need for enhanced EU regulations' delineates also a strategy to overcome deficits in legislation with respect to chemical safety requirements in FCM – Food Contact Materials.
ANEC calls on the implementing measure on ceramics (Council Directive 84/500) to be updated as quickly as possible with a view to reducing the limits for cadmium and lead release and incorporating further elements. A list of priority materials for regulation needs to be established and implementing measures developed.
In line with ANEC demands, European Parliament adopted a resolution on food contact materials and how to ensure food safety alongside technical innovation. Given the prevalence of FCMs on the EU market, and the risk posed to human health, the EP asks the EC to prioritise the drawing up of specific measures for paper and board, varnishes and coatings, metals and alloys, printing inks and adhesives. It also asks for a ban on Bisphenol A and a coherent regulatory approach on CMR substances and other substances of concern. ANEC applauds the EP report as its essence, and several key conclusions, are in line with our Position paper on Food Contact Materials Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004) as contribution to the EP Report. The European Commission is now expected to take further action.
In ANEC’s view, a regulatory framework needs to be established to set requirements for all materials in contact with drinking water, covering the full water supply chain from the source to the water tap and all parameters which may affect the drinking water quality. One of the means proposed in ANEC’s strategy is modifying the existing Drinking Water Directive (DWD, 98/83/EC).
Instructed by ANEC position on how to achieve safer materials in contact with drinking water, ANEC has contributed of EC activities in the Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC (DWD) evaluation.
Despite the initial general agreement among stakeholders on the need to revise and update certain aspects of the directive related to human health and environment pollution, the evaluation conclusions don’t seem to envisage the needed revision. ANEC will closely follow subsequent phase 2 of the evaluation: the Impact Assessment intended to analyse the detailed health, environmental, social and economic impacts of the major policy options selected by the European Commission. By doing so, ANEC also continues its promotion of the "European acceptance scheme for construction products in contact with drinking water (EAS)", and the subsequent work done for harmonisation by a group of members states to be taken as a basis in a revised DWD or in a standalone regulatory document.
ANEC also highlights the need for a new regulatory framework to be established to set harmonised performance requirements for all products and materials which can release substances to the indoor air (construction products such as floor coverings, paints, coatings, wall coverings, adhesives, home textiles such as carpets, printers, cleaning agents, air fresheners, etc.).
In light of its position, ANEC has also participated and reacted to standardisation work in relation to candle emissions and participates in CEN TC 436 ‘Cabin Air Quality on commercial aircraft – Chemical Agents' and CEN/TC 437 ‘Electronic cigarettes and e-liquids’ and two subgroups to ensure that the requirements set in the standard(s) correctly protect consumers from exposure to hazardous chemicals and that the stakeholder representation in the TC is balanced.
Clothing and other textiles consumers come into contact, are covered by the General Product Safety Directive. The directive however does not allow the stipulation of limits for chemicals. ANEC thus calls for a new regulatory measure for textiles based on generic substance exclusions with hazard classes defined in certain existing legislation as well as substance specific and other provisions.
In 2016, in the framework of the ANEC strategy on 'Hazardous chemicals in products - The need for enhanced EU regulations', ANEC collaborated with BEUC on a joint contribution to the European Commission public consultation on a possible restriction of hazardous substances (CMR 1A and 1B) in textile articles and clothing for consumer use under Article 68(2) of Regulation EC No 1907/2006 (REACH) The Commission intends to use REACH Art. 68(2) to target specific categories of consumer articles. The ANEC/BEUC position paper ‘Protecting consumers from hazardous chemicals in textiles’ highlighted that article 68(2) cannot cover all hazardous substances and there is a need for a product specific legislation to address all substances of very high concern. Unfortunately, to ANEC’s disappointment the Commission confirmed the initial intention for the way ahead.
ANEC continues its collaboration with BEUC on future policy developments in this area to defend the consumer standpoints.
Since 2010, Member States have submitted more than 100 notifications to RAPEX (Rapid Alert System for non-food dangerous products) on dangerous tattoo products posing severe risks to consumers. Tattoo inks can contain several hazardous chemicals, including substances that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR), or are skin sensitizers.
Up to 20% of the European population has at least one tattoo. The proportion with tattoos in the age range 20 to 40 years is even higher, and the trend is upwards. This means at least 50 million people in Europe are exposed to risk. ANEC has addressed the safety of tattoo inks in its position paper delineating a strategy to tackle hazardous chemicals in consumer products and in a series of events held in collaboration with national authorities.
Unfortunately, there seems to be the intention to deal with the chemical safety of tattoos only within REACH. This option was initially dismissed by the European Commission, and this rejection was supported by ANEC. We still believe the drafting of an emergency measure - that was started and abandoned - under the General Product Safety Directive a more suitable solution to tackle these products more urgently. ANEC will continue giving its input to the discussion on the safety of tattoo products.
To know more about ANEC activities to improve chemical requirements for toys please visit the subpage on Child Safety.
ANEC acknowledges that nanotechnologies have a potential to offer benefits to consumers and the environment as they could improve energy efficiency of appliances for example. However, these technologies and materials may also present new risks which have never been evaluated. We are therefore concerned about the increasing number of products containing nanomaterials which are already and will be sold on the EU market without having been subject to a proper safety assessment. Adequate safety and risk assessment methodologies taking account of all characteristics of nanomaterials should be developed. We also call for clear definitions of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies to be adopted, as the lack of definitions leads to legal uncertainties and hampers the development of regulatory requirements, and for the precautionary principle to be applied.
It is of paramount importance that existing and new European legislation relevant to nanotechnologies is adapted and developed in order to safeguard consumer health and safety, as well as the environment, setting legal safety requirements (e.g. limit values for certain nanomaterials in products) and standardisation used to establish test methods and other technical specifications. Increased transparency about the use of nanomaterials and labelling of consumer products containing nanomaterials is also needed.
The Commission recognised the need to better monitor the presence of nanomaterials in the European market, an impact assessment has been carried out since 2015 on possible policy options to enhance transparency and consumer information. ANEC and BEUC, as several civil society organisations, have been calling for the setting up of a mandatory reporting scheme for nanomaterials including those used in consumer products and an inventory of all nanomaterials, based on the ANEC/BEUC inventory from 2010 and a nano-silver specific one issued in 2012.
Unfortunately, further to its impact assessment and before its publication, the EC announced in March 2016 that its preferred option would be a ‘European nano-observatory’ (a website listing existing information) and not an EU register. ECHA has been requested to develop the observatory by 2018.
3) CEN SABE project
As a result of the efforts of ANEC Austrian member Consumer Council of ASI, CEN SABE requested and received Commission funding for a project addressing chemicals in product standards in a consistent manner: ‘Tailored support - chemicals in product standards’. The project started in 2015 and ANEC nominated an ANEC Representative to its Steering Group.
The project includes three key activities:
1) The setting up and running of a multi stakeholder panel of experts responsible for advising the project team;
2) The development of a Guide including practical recommendations for standardizers on how to include requirements related to chemicals in product standards;
3) The development of a strategy for the promotion and implementation of the Guide.
Further to ANEC involvement on CEN TCs were work had been initiated on requirements regarding hazardous substances in the standards also thanks to ANEC commitment to the CEN approach on including environmental aspects in standards, ANEC currently participates in the following groups:
- CEN TC 352 WG 2 “Nanotechnologies-Commercial and other stakeholder aspects"
- ISO TC 229 “Nanotechnologies”
- CEN SABE Project Team on Tailored support on Chemicals in standardisation
- CEN TC 436 PC "Cabin Air Quality on commercial aircraft – Chemical Agents"
- CEN/TC 437 - "Electronic cigarettes and e-liquids" (monitored)
ANEC is also a member of:
- ECHA-NGO Discussion Platform
- European Commission Consumer Safety Network Subgroup on tattoo inks
- Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue TACD Product Safety and Chemicals Committee
On 7 December, the EC signed an agreement with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to set up an EU Observatory for Nanomaterials. On the same day, ANEC attended a conference organised by Ciel, ECOS and Oeko-Institut, “Governance of Emerging Technologies: Nanotechnologies in the spotlight – State of emergence or state of emergency?”
After debating with DG Environment, ECHA and OECD officials on the existing gaps in the EU governance of nanomaterials, several Civil Society Organisations agreed to step back from the EU observatory. The measure cannot respond to the call made over a decade by NGOs, consumer groups and Member States among others for information to made publicly available about the nature, quantity and uses of nanomaterials, and the products containing them. The observatory will instead only compile existing information. The demands of civil society are detailed in the Joint NGO Position Paper ‘Reset Governance: Nanomaterials as a case study on negligence NGO demands for adequate EU governance of nanomaterials’ published the same week.