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Environmental and health organisations have reacted with severe concern after the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)’s scientific committees today rejected an attempt to eliminate hazardous chemicals from single-use babies’ diapers [1].

Though it is not widely known, single-use diapers can contain a range of chemicals proven to be dangerous to human health, from carcinogens to hormone disruptors. This means that newborns and toddlers can be exposed to such substances for a long period of time during a phase of their development when they are particularly vulnerable.

Last year, France made a proposal to restrict well-known hazardous substances formaldehyde, PAHs, dioxins, furans and PCBs in single-use baby diapers throughout the EU. These substances are unintentionally added during the production process. 

But today, ECHA’s Socio-Economic Assessment Committee (SEAC) dismissed France’s proposal in a new written opinion. This follows the opinion published in September this year by the Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC).

ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), Zero Waste Lviv, the Nappy Alliance, the Gallifrey Foundation and She Changes Climate are now asking the Commission to protect EU children and ban these substances in nappies.

Hélène Duguy, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said: “Parents are doing their utmost to protect their children from unnecessary risks and will be horrified to know that the diapers they use every day may contain toxic chemicals.

“Because the substances in question have harmful properties and babies may be exposed for a prolonged period of time, ECHA cannot rule out the existence of a risk to babies’ health – so blocking attempts to change this dangerous situation is unacceptable.”

Dolores Romano, deputy policy manager for chemicals at the EEB, said: “ECHA’s committees consider that there are too many uncertainties to conclude that the hazardous substances present in diapers pose a risk. However, they acknowledge that the available evidence does not allow them to rule out risks to babies and they recommend that these substances should not be present in nappies. We hope that the Commission takes a precautionary approach and bans these toxic chemicals”.

Natacha Cingotti, Health and Chemicals Program Lead at HEAL, said: “Overall, ECHA’s opinion fails to account for and address the particular vulnerability of the newborns and toddlers that this important restriction aims to protect. It is all the more disappointing as the recent Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability promised increased protection from harmful substances for young children, which should translate into zero tolerance for any harmful substances in diapers.”

The European Commission now has three months to come up with a final restriction proposal which will then be voted on by Member States’ competent authorities in the REACH Committee.

Contact: 

Natacha Cingotti, Health and Chemicals Programme Lead at HEAL, natacha@env-health.org

Anaïs Rivalier, Senior Strategic Communications Officer at ClientEarth, ARivalier@clientearth.org

Notes:

  1. https://echa.europa.eu/-/scientific-committees-support-further-restrictions-of-pfas