Greater consideration of consumer protection in the planned EU chemicals legislation!

The REACH draft regulation does not take adequate account of the interests of consumers. At its 1st Consumer Protection Forum in June of this year, BfR drew attention to this fact and called for improvements to test concepts, consumer information and the use of alternative test methods. The legislative project on chemical safety is currently being discussed by the Council and Parliament of the European Union. The publication of the proceedings on the 1st Consumer Protection Forum prompted BfR to comment once again on REACH from the angle of the consumer. In principle, the Federal Institute welcomes the fact that the exposure of the consumer to chemicals and chemical products is attracting increasing attention in discussions. "This should not, however, hide the fact", comments the President of BfR, Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, "that the draft regulation still has a series of shortcomings with regard to consumer protection that must be overcome".

In the opinion of the Institute the systematic recording, processing and documentation of all available information on chemicals and chemical products on the market should be the centrepiece of REACH.  It is not possible to do without information on the correct and foreseeable use of chemicals in consumer products either.  This information must be provided irrespective of the production volumes otherwise there will be gaps in consumer protection.

No scientific arguments could be advanced for the plans to exclude chemicals with an annual production volume of less than 1 tonne in the EU from the information obligation.  Depending on their harmfulness, chemicals can also damage the health of consumers in small amounts.

Furthermore, the current REACH draft does not make adequate provision for consumer autonomy and the goal of self-informed, independent decisions.  The consumer is entitled to take a decision after undertaking his own risk-benefit analysis.  This had already been laid down by the European Commission in 2001 in its White Paper on Chemicals Policy.

The present draft regulation does not envisage consumers being given any information about the risks of chemicals and chemical products.  However, consumers, the main users, are a very important target group.  The information must be made available to them in a comprehensible and easily accessible manner.

BfR believes it makes sense for consumers to also be able in future to assess the health risk from the exposure angle.  The daily exposure of the consumer to chemicals is not only determined by his direct contact with a substance or a product.  It also results from indirect exposure in his environment to numerous substances.  The exposure prognosis must, therefore, take account not only of one-off but also repeated, direct exposure.

The exposure-oriented approach in the REACH draft is further undermined by the conditions tied to the establishment of health safety.  Toxicological tests of relevance for health like studies on reprotoxic and long term effects are to be required if the concentration of a substance in a product is less than 0.1%.  In the case of a large product volume, this concentration can already constitute a considerable, health relevant exposure for consumers.  Important data for risk assessment would then be missing.

Furthermore, BfR criticises the fact that in the planned EU provisions there is no provision for adequate networking of REACH with other legal provisions concerning products.  As a rule they require risk assessment for the entire product and not - as envisaged in the REACH concept - for the individual substances contained therein.  The comparability of risk assessments and resulting management measures is not, therefore, guaranteed.  However, this is absolutely essential for consumer health protection.

The envisaged restriction of animal experiments to the absolutely unavoidable degree is very much welcomed by BfR.  However, it is not possible today to completely do without animal experiments if damage to health is to be avoided.

The Institute regrets that the REACH draft does not impose a notification obligation for doctors about the health effects of chemicals in human beings.  This means a step back compared with the provisions of German law which had been valid up to now.

The proceedings on the 1st BfR Consumer Protection Forum “EU Chemicals Law and Consumer Protection” (in German) can be obtained by writing to the BfR Press and Public Relations Office (Thielallee 88-92, 14195 Berlin, Fax:  030-84124970,  Furthermore, they can be downloaded free from the homepage, from the section “Publications” as a PDF file.

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