On Wednesday, October 14th, 2020, the European Commission approved an ambitious strategy, with a goal to protect the citizens and the environment better from the most toxic substances. In the future, products containing poisons that are carcinogenic and mutagenic or that damage the hormonal and reproductive system should disappear from store shelves. The new chemicals strategy can trigger the biggest changes in chemical policy in the last 20 years.
The strategy is supposed to lead to a ban on the whole group of fluorinated substances (PFAS), a large group of around 5,000 harmful chemicals. “The current approach to reducing fluorinated substances has been frustrating. When, after lengthy negotiations, one of the substances was banned, the industry quickly replaced it with a dozen of others raising similar concerns. Anyhow, all representatives of this group pose a significant risk,” explains Jitka Straková, Arnika’s expert on toxic substances.
Manufacturers will only be allowed to use the problematic chemicals if they carry an ‘essential’ function. “Of course, we welcome such an approach, because the state of chemical pollution is deplorable and requires fundamental changes in our approach,” Straková notes.
The new policy sees the importance of assessment of the whole life cycle of a product and also opposes the shameful approach of the European Union, which has made it possible to export materials containing pollutants abroad, where the use of toxic substances is not restricted yet.
“Let's hope that in a few years we will not find any harmful substances neither in recycled plastic goods. If the life cycle aspect is really taken into account, toxic waste export – and also its re-import in the form of recycled consumer items – will not be possible,” expresses Karolína Brabcová, leader of the Czechia without poisons campaign.
Another positive trend of the chemicals strategy is the assessment of the ‘cocktail effect’. The chemical substance does not act in the environment and the human body separately, but in a ‘cocktail’ with other chemicals that often multiply its effects. “All we have to do is to wish the new chemicals strategy quick enforcement into specific laws. Only then it will be time for a real celebration,” concludes Jindřich Petrlík, head of Arnika’s Toxics and Waste programme.