How much consumer protection is actually afforded by the planned EU chemicals legislation?

With its expert opinion on the legal opportunities for achieving more consumer protection, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) contributes to the current discussions about the REACH proposal. The book “Consumer Protection in Chemicals Legislation” by Kristian Fischer has taken a critical look at consumer health protection in the future EU regulation. Fischer is a legal scientist at Mannheim University and an expert in materials legislation. He draws the following conclusion in his analysis: Consumer protection does not get the attention it merits in the current version of the proposed regulation. The book was published prior to the first BfR Forum entitled “EU Chemicals Legislation and Consumer Protection” to be staged in Berlin on 23 and 24 June.

The new EU chemicals legislation will decisively shape the consumer safety of chemicals and chemical products over the next 20 years. It is to regulate the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals and the abbreviation REACH is the term used in current discussions. The proposal for a regulation is primarily designed as a set of material-related provisions. Materials producers, importers and manufacturing producers are to be reminded of their responsibilities and are the main target groups of REACH. However, consumers come into contact with the product not with the individual substance. Given the current orientation of the proposed regulation towards environmental and protection at work aspects, consumers take a back seat. For Fischer this leads to a “structural deficit” in the proposed regulation in which the interests of consumers are not taken sufficiently into account. The author recommends safeguarding consumer protection with an “instrumental safety net”.

On each level of REACH, registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction, the main directions are being established for consumer protection. A strict or less strict formulation of the provisions for the individual stages has an impact on the level of consumer protection. This level of protection is, for instance, lowered when in conjunction with marketing authorisation a health risk is weighed against the economic benefits. All the same, the proposal also has the potential to strengthen consumer protection, for instance when opportunities to restrict the use of materials in products are fully exploited.

The book does not restrict itself to a mere analysis of the legal foundations. Fischer also makes concrete proposals for improvements, for instance regarding the mechanisms which would have to be added to chemicals legislation with a view to improving consumer protection. The material-based approach impeded consideration of the cumulative impact of materials. After all, consumers can simultaneously take in one and the same chemical from various products. In order to clarify how and to what degree human beings come into contact with a material, the various routes would have to be taken into account when assessing exposure within the framework of REACH.

The book “Consumer Protection in Chemicals Legislation, Management Options within the Framework of the Planned REACH Regulation” by Dr. Kristian Fischer has been published in German in the series of Berliner Stoffrechtliche Schriften by the Lexxion Verlag, Berlin, ISBN 3-936232-47-4. It costs € 19.80.

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