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BRUSSELS – New research claims companies are breaking EU law by marketing hundreds of potentially dangerous chemicals that are widely used in apparel and other products. A three-year investigation into the chemical industry by national authorities found that a third of the 1,814 high production volume chemicals made or imported into Europe since 2010 break EU laws designed to protect the public and environment from harmful exposure.

The study was carried out by German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and German Environment Agency (UBA). Just 31 per cent were declared as legally compliant, with the rest needing more investigation.

In theory, companies are breaking Europe’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations by failing to report to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) whether their substances are cancer causing, neurotoxic, mutagenic, bioaccumulative and/or harmful to developing children or human fertility.

European Environmental Bureau chemicals policy manager Tatiana Santos said: “This rare investigation by German regulators shows that we just don’t know whether or not everyday products are made from stuff that is bad for us. Not the people who make products, or the people who consume them. What we do know is there is a serious problem with chemicals in our environment linked to cancer and other nasty diseases, and it is getting worse.”

The BfR / UBA study is a rare effort by a public authority tasked with ensuring legal compliance by companies – no other national authority has conducted such an inspection for years. The report was presented at a workshop hosted by BfR earlier this year.

The European Environmental Bureau claims that, despite the low level of compliance, the chemicals will continue to be used with no extra enforcement activities foreseen in the short-term.

A statement from the Bureau said: “Guidance to industry will be produced, followed by dialogue and a workshop next year. The guidance will have no legal force.

“Companies register their substances with ECHA. The agency conducts a superficial check on registrations to see whether documentation is filed. Companies are then permitted to make or import chemicals. ECHA is required to then conduct follow-up checks on 5 percent of dossiers. Just four of around 40,000 dossiers registered with ECHA since 2010 have been revoked.

“Even when companies have declared that substances pose a risk to human health or the environment, only a handful of restriction actions have been taken by either the European Commission or governments, as required by law. Fewer restrictions occur today than before REACH regulations entered into force.”

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