A pilot project by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) intended to gather information on chemical substances “of very high concern” found in consumer articles has yielded some alarming results, according to the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI).

The results

The inspectorates of 15 EU Member States checked 682 articles supplied by 405 companies. Eighty-four articles (12%) contained substances of very high concern, with the companies producing them not complying with the regulation requiring them to notify the ECHA of the presence of such substances above a concentration of 0.1%.

The articles in question were consumer products such as clothing, shoes and home textiles, electrical or electronic articles, or articles used in construction or interior design such as flooring or plastic furniture. The substances identified most frequently were phthalates, mostly DEHP, a reprotoxic substance and endocrine disruptor. Other substances of very high concern, such as lead, cadmium, bisphenol A or brominated flame retardants were also identified.

In Sweden, an inspection campaign targeted local shops, with inspectors then working their way up the supply chain, checking the activities of producers, importers and wholesalers. The findings were very much the same as those of the ECHA survey. For 324 different articles, information on substances of very high concern was not provided. These included toys, sports and fishing equipment, gloves, clothing and electronic products.

E-commerce companies "pay little attention" to regulations

Together with other Nordic countries, Sweden is also taking part in a project looking at articles shipped via e-commerce. Initial results indicate that e-commerce traders similarly pay little attention to the statutory obligations set forth in REACH.

One of the key goals of the REACH regulation on chemical products is to progressively replace the substances of greatest concern with safer alternatives. This EU regulation defines substances of very high concern on the basis of their inherent dangers for human health or for the environment (for example, carcinogens or reprotoxic substances). These substances are to be found in a candidate list, a list currently with 201 entries. Once a substance is listed here, obligations arise in the supply chain to inform users at work and consumers. Once EU Member States reach agreement on transferring substances from the candidate list to the REACH authorisation list, businesses then have to seek European Commission approval to continue using them. This is currently the case with 43 substances of very high concern.

According to ETUI researcher Laurent Vogel, “the report highlights the fact that several companies are quite complacent about marketing articles containing extremely dangerous substances. Although non-compliance with REACH obligations can lead to criminal charges, it would seem that criminal proceedings are not being initiated systematically, with just 21 cases referred to the public prosecutor and just two resulting in fines”.

Download and read the ECHA report