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New EU chemicals strategy targets harmful consumer products

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New EU chemicals strategy targets harmful consumer products

Dangerous toys

(BRUSSELS) - A new strategy on chemicals, unveiled Wednesday by the EU Commission, would prohibit the use of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products such as toys, cosmetics and detergents.

Chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU, and 59% of chemicals produced are directly supplied to other sectors, including health, construction, automotive, electronics, and textiles. With global chemicals production expected to double by 2030, the already widespread use of chemicals is likely to increase, including in consumer products.

The new strategy is aimed at boosting innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals, and increasing protection of human health and the environment against hazardous chemicals.

While acknowledging the role of chemicals for human well-being, the Commission says there is an urgent need to address the health and environmental challenges caused by the most harmful chemicals.

Concrete actions under the strategy include ensuring that the most harmful chemicals for human health and the environment are avoided for non-essential societal use, in particular in consumer products and with regard to most vulnerable groups, but also that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.

The strategy aims to significantly increase the protection of human health and the environment from harmful chemicals, paying particular attention to vulnerable population groups. Flagship initiatives include in particular:

  • Phasing out from consumer products, such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, the most harmful substances, which include among others endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect the immune and respiratory systems, and persistent substances such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), unless their use is proven essential for society;
  • Minimising and substituting as far possible the presence of substances of concern in all products. Priority will be given to those product categories that affect vulnerable populations and those with the highest potential for circular economy;
  • Addressing the combination effect of chemicals (cocktail effect) by taking better account of the risk that is posed to human health and the environment by daily exposure to a wide mix of chemicals from different sources;
  • Ensuring that producers and consumers have access to information on chemical content and safe use, by introducing information requirements in the context of the Sustainable Product Policy Initiative.

At the same time, the strategy aims to capture the economic opportunities and enable the green transition of the chemicals sector and its value chains. The actions are looking to support industrial innovation so that such chemicals become the norm on the EU market and a benchmark worldwide. This will be done mainly by:

  • Developing safe-and-sustainable-by-design criteria and ensuring financial support for the commercialisation and uptake of safe and sustainable chemicals;
  • Ensuring the development and uptake of safe and sustainable-by-design substances, materials and products through EU funding and investment instruments and public-private partnerships;
  • Considerably stepping up enforcement of EU rules both at the borders and in the single market;
  • Putting in place an EU research and innovation agenda for chemicals, to fill knowledge gaps on the impact of chemicals, promote innovation and move away from animal testing;
  • Simplifying and consolidating the EU legal framework – e.g. by introducing the 'One substance one assessment' process, strengthening the principles of 'no data, no market' and introducing targeted amendments to REACH and sectorial legislation, to name a few.

The Commission says it will also promote safety and sustainability standards globally, in particular by leading by example and promoting a coherent approach aiming that hazardous substances that are banned in the EU are not produced for exports.

Communication on Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability: Towards a toxic-fee environment

Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability - background guide

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