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Big retailers caught breaching EU chemicals law

12 October 2010
by EEB -- last modified 12 October 2010

A report released today reveals big retailers are breaching the EU’s flagship regulation on chemicals, while many products such as school supplies, sports accessories and sex toys are shown to contain high concentrations of ‘substances of very high concern’.


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Some large European retailers such as Carrefour, Tesco and Media Markt are not adequately protecting citizens from harmful chemicals in everyday products by failing to provide basic information they are legally obliged to under EU law. Many of these products were found to contain chemicals listed as substances of very high concern (SVHC), which are recognised to be toxic for reproduction.

REACH, which stands for Registration Evaluation Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals, is an EU wide legislation that is meant to ensure the phase out of potentially damaging chemicals. It also sets out transparency requirements to give shoppers the right to know about whether a SVHC listed on a 'candidate list' (a list of chemicals to be phased on in the future) are in products they might choose to buy.

Article 33.2 of REACH states that consumers should at least receive the name of the SVHC with information on how to safely use the product within 45 days of the request, free of charge. These obligations applied since 2008 when the first SVHC were officially listed.

However, the EEB reveals today in their report 'The Fight to Know?' that half of the 158 information requests sent to European retailers between April-August 2010 received no response. EEB and four of their members, who set out to test the willingness of retailers to provide information, also discovered that only 22 percent of the requests received satisfactory answers that meet the minimum legal requirements under REACH.

The legal department of Media Markt, electronics providers with over 800 shops across Europe, simply declared that they were of the opinion that they did not have to provide such information. Bart Smits (Netherlands) refused to provide information to "third parties", clearly breaching the "right to know". C&A Belgium merely replied to one request via email with "?".

"All citizens ought to be given full information about what properties of chemicals are in the products they buy. A parent, for instance, should automatically be informed whether a pencil case for their child contains phthalates which can impair sexual development," said Christian Schaible, EEB Chemicals Policy Officer.

"Unfortunately, EU law forces consumers to repeatedly ask about chemicals in stores, and suppliers are only obliged to give information under specific conditions. However, we have shown that not even this legal right is guaranteed in practice", continued Schaible.

Widespread contamination

High concentrations of phthalates, plasticisers used to make plastic more flexible, were found in many of the 93 products which underwent chemical analysis for the EEB at an independent laboratory.

A cosmetic bag from Carrefour Belgium was found to contain three SVHC phthalates, with a concentration of 8.7% of the phthalate DEHP - one of four phthalates on the candidate list which has been shown to carry in the blood of adults and can have feminising effects and alter brain development of infants.

Four out of the five sex toys tested were also shown to have very high concentrations of phthalates. One named "Prince Charming" contained 63 percent DEHP. Retailers still have time to phase out these chemicals, but EEB warns the REACH process is taking too much time.

While there are many more SVHCs that consumers should be protected from, even the few that are currently listed by the European Chemicals Agency are not taken into account by several retailers.

READ THE REPORT


The European Environmental Bureau is a federation of over 140 environmental citizens’ organisations based in all 27 European Union's Member States. EEB promotes EU’s ‘Green Leadership’. The EEB office was set up in Brussels in 1974 it is meant to monitor the EU’s environmental policy. EEB has an information service, runs working groups of EEB members, produces position papers on topics that are on the EU agenda, and represents its members in discussions with the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. It coordinates EU-oriented activities with members at national level, and also closely follows the EU enlargement process and the Aarhus Convention EU oriented activities.

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