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Earlier this week, the European Commission released its Chemicals Restriction Roadmap, one of the important deliverables for increased health protection under the EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.
The roadmap represents an important paradigm shift towards more health-protective regulations on well-known groups of chemicals of concern currently available on the market. However, health groups regret that important details for turning the plan into a regulatory reality, including allocated resources and precise timelines for final delivery, are not included.
The roadmap provides a list of groups of widely used chemicals of concern that will be targeted for restrictions at the European level in the coming years, including bisphenols, PFAS (also known as “Forever Chemicals”) and flame retardants. It is estimated that up to 12,000 harmful compounds that are widely used in industrial applications and consumer products could be included.
In HEAL’s view, the Restriction Roadmap is important and relevant because:
- It constitutes an important confirmation of the European Commission’s commitments towards increased health protection as expressed in the October 2020 Chemicals Strategy, as well as a concrete translation of this commitment through a list of groups of chemicals that are of concern for health and the environment and to which exposure needs to be minimized. According to health groups, exposure prevention to harmful compounds is and will always remain the best tool to put an end to known negative impacts and diseases associated to exposure and to prevent them from occurring in the future.
- It marks a turning point in the European regulatory approach to chemicals: the roadmap addresses entire groups of chemicals across broad uses rather than individual substances for very specific uses. This is a promise for regulatory action on chemicals at a scale that has never been seen before.
- It provides a publicly accessible list of groups of substances that will be targeted for restrictions in the coming years. This is important because this gives all stakeholders long-term visibility on planned regulatory action and thereby can facilitate existing and future substitution efforts towards safe alternatives.
But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. And this is particularly true when it comes to developments relating to chemicals policies and their real-life implementation.
While HEAL strongly welcomes the publication of the roadmap, we look forward to the clarification of the following crucial aspects:
- The roadmap alone does not provide any details regarding the level of resources allocated to the development of the announced restrictions. The current workload of relevant regulatory actors (including EU Member States, the European Chemical Agency and the European Commission) is already very high and resource availability is regularly an issue when it comes to the timely delivery of existing and planned initiatives. The implementation of the roadmap will therefore require clear commitments towards increased and sustained resources in the future.
- The roadmap maps out a tentative timetable for when the restrictions’ dossiers of chemical substances will be submitted at the EU Chemicals Agency and it is not available for all the groups of substances to be targeted yet. This corresponds to the beginning of the restriction process, which involves many different actors with a say in the process. In other words, the roadmap in itself is not a guarantee for a ban of the targeted substances.What’s more, as seen in the case of previous and currently discussed restrictions, expert discussions in the course of developing the regulatory pieces as well as further agreements between the European Commission and Member States can take a very long time. Therefore, for the roadmap to contribute to a swift increase in protection levels, commitments as regards the timing for delivery of each restriction planned will be crucial.
When the EU Chemicals Strategy was published in October 2020, one groundbreaking announcement with regards to regulators’ ability to regulate harmful chemicals faster and in a more coherent way was the planned extension of the use of the generic risk assessment approach. This approach allows for swift bans and restrictions of harmful chemicals based on their intrinsic hazardous properties:
- beyond carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic (CMR) chemicals to other hazards, including endocrine disruption, persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity (PBTs), target organ toxicity and immunotoxicity;
- and for the restriction of all consumer products.
Until the generic risk assessment approach is in place, the European Commission promised to develop a restriction roadmap as a transition tool. Initially expected at the end of 2021, the roadmap was eventually released on Monday 25th April.