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EU plan to ban up to 7,000 dangerous chemicals failing badly, says study – The Guardian

Roadmap to stop use of substances including ‘forever chemicals’ used to implement bans on 14 chemical groups so far, report states
A plan to ban up to 7,000 of the most potentially dangerous chemicals on the European market by 2030 is failing badly, according to a study.
A year ago, the EU launched a roadmap to banning groups of toxic substances linked to environmental damage and serious illnesses such as cancers, hormonal disruption and reprotoxic disorders. These included all bisphenols, the most dangerous flame retardants, and the increasingly controversial PFAS chemicals (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
Also known as “forever chemicals”, PFAS formulations accumulate in the natural environment where they take hundreds of years – or longer – to degrade. They were used so ubiquitously over the last century that one US government study found them in the bloodstreams of almost all Americans, while a survey this year logged 17,000 contaminated sites in Europe – and 2,100 hotspots.
The restrictions roadmap was brought in as an interim measure to protect the public and nature while the European Commission finalises an update to its complex Reach programme (which centrally compiles data on modern synthetic chemicals, and sets rules for their governance).
But Reach has been delayed and the commission has so far used the roadmap to implement bans on just 14 chemical groups, of which only two appear watertight, according to a joint report by the green law group ClientEarth and the European Environmental Bureau.
Hélène Duguy, ClientEarth’s law and policy adviser, said lagging action showed “the failure of the EU’s piecemeal approach to chemical bans. This approach means that people and our environment are not protected against the most harmful chemicals. This needs to change now. European authorities and the EU commission have all legal tools to rescue this roadmap and correct a depressing direction of travel.”
A revised Reach regulation is still due by the end of the year, while the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) raised the prospect of new regulation of bisphenol A in food last week. Efsa reduced its tolerable daily intake recommendation of the substance by a factor of 20,000, due to the risk of allergic lung inflammation and autoimmune disorders.
However, most uses of bisphenols look set to continue, with only five of the 148 bisphenols on the market facing restrictions. Campaigners also expect no let-up in contamination from toxic lead shot across Europe, because of a loophole in a commission proposal that allows its continued use for sport.
A possible ban on single-use nappies that contain dioxins, furans, formaldehyde and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was also withdrawn.
A spokesperson for Cefic, the European chemicals industry trade association, said: “One has to have patience while assessing the progress of [an] initiative of such magnitude. We believe we need to give it at least five years. There is a well-known regulatory process to follow, with ECHA committees involved. The conclusions on lead in ammunition, baby nappies and others follow the process and we respect the process.”
However, the study claims that slow progress on chemical files has created de facto “regulatory holidays” with legal deadlines broken in almost all cases and multi-year exemptions for non-critical uses of dangerous substances.
Proposals to restrict PFAS used in skin-sensitising substances have gathered dust for two and a half years, as has a planned restriction on the use of calcium cyanamide in fertiliser, it says. Limits on the use of intentionally added microplastics have been discussed for more than a year in Brussels, while 42,000 tons of the substance continues to wash through Europe’s rivers and seas annually.
The study blames a lack of resources made available to officials working on these files, a lack of data sharing by companies and poor time management systems in the commission that have allowed staff to develop multiple overlapping restrictions, and to target marginal substances.
A Commission spokesperson said: “We will look in more detail at the report by EEB and Client Earth, but we can already affirm that one year after the publication of the Restrictions Roadmap, there has been significant progress in the preparatory work for the restrictions identified in the Roadmap. For example, the restriction on formaldehyde, which is a carcinogenic substance restricted in consumer products is finalised and [has been] tabled for scrutiny to the co-legislators.”
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A lobby battle over the issue is brewing, with specialist media consultancies warning chemical firms not to repeat the mistakes of big oil and tobacco companies that denied their products’ health and environmental risks and so “lost the narrative”.
However, Mark Newman, the CEO of the US chemicals firm Chemours, last week said product bans could threaten EU green goals, such as the introduction of electric cars and green hydrogen.
Chemours is a spinoff from DuPont, which is facing a lawsuit in California that could run to hundreds of millions of dollars, over what the state attorney general called the “staggering” clean-up costs of forever chemicals.
Chemours did not immediately respond to a comment request but Tatiana Santos, the head of chemicals policy at the European Environmental Bureau, said suggestions that bans would cause economic damage were misleading.
“PFASs will not be banned if they are deemed to be essential,” she said. “If there are no safe alternatives for mobility or batteries, they will never fall under the scope of the regulation. The industry is just using this as an excuse to undermine the whole regulatory project.”

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