Exposure models and better data collection for more consumer safety with chemicals
The REACH Congress 2016 with the theme "Consumer Protection Under REACH" took place at the Federal Institute for Consumer Protection (BfR) in Berlin from 5 to 6 October. More than 250 experts discussed the latest developments and challenges in European chemicals law in order to provide consumers with better protection against the risks posed by chemicals in consumer products. "REACH is to be adapted to reflect the increasing use of nanomaterials, the trend towards tattooing and the risks facing consumers through do-it-yourself products from the hardware store," says BfR Vice President Professor Dr. Reiner Wittkowski. "With its research in the fields of nanomaterials, exposure estimation and tattooing agents, the BfR is a driving force behind the move to further strengthen consumer protection and regulatory risk assessment under REACH". The REACH Congress 2016 served as a benchmark for consumer protection under REACH while also allowing an exchange of experiences with regard to the authorisation process. It was to be checked on this basis whether follow-on activities were to be undertaken under REACH or taken into consideration in the EU Commission’s upcoming REACH review.
REACH stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals and is the name given to the European chemicals law which was reformed in 2007. One of the goals of REACH is to protect consumer health. The focus here is on exposure to substances and mixtures in the household contained in products such as paint and varnish, adhesives, cleaning agents, clothing and furniture. In addition to the toxicological assessment and classification of the individual substances, exposure is also relevant for health assessment. The important aspects here are the content and release rates of substances from the products, as well as the frequency and duration of consumer contact with the products. Information of this kind is often unavailable. For this reason, exposure estimation in the REACH assessment is currently being derived from modelled standard values or from values provided by manufacturers’ associations. The BfR is engaged in various projects with the goal of developing calculation models for the estimation of consumer exposure. In this way, the concept of core exposure scenarios was developed which enables the joint analysis of similar exposure scenarios for different consumer products. The BfR has successfully completed the first, limited surveys on the use of shoe impregnation sprays, floor cleaners and air fresheners. The Institute is also involved in exposure estimation for DIY products.
The ingredients of tattooing agents are not sufficiently regulated at the moment. Tattooing agents can contain heavy metals and other health-damaging or allergenic substances. Within the EU, no systematic test is currently made to establish whether the ingredients of tattooing agents have any mutagenic, carcinogenic, reprotoxic or other health-damaging effects. In the opinion of several congress participants, REACH could be a suitable instrument to improve the protection of consumers from potentially health-damaging substances in tattooing agents.
The use of nanomaterials in consumer products such as textiles, food contact materials and cosmetics is increasing continuously. The special physicochemical and technological properties of these materials and the many different forms they take on make them special substances from the point of view of chemical and product safety, the effects of which on health and the environment can only be insufficiently recorded and described using the conventional regulations and methods of chemical testing and assessment. Despite this, nanomaterials have not been assessed separately under REACH up to now. By examining the migration of particles from textiles containing nanosilver, the BfR is contributing towards better estimation of possible consumer exposure. The research results show that nanosilver particles applied to the surface of textiles can detach themselves, whereas nanomaterials worked into the fibre are hardly released at all. The findings of this and other research projects on nanomaterials contribute towards the assessment of the possible consumer risks posed by nanomaterials and to the further development of the REACH regulation.
Health risks such as allergic reactions can occur for consumers through the use of DIY products, because it is not mandatory to list their ingredients. Examinations of random samples have detected some toxicologically relevant substances in DIY products. The discussion among the participants revealed that although the tests conducted by the monitoring authorities in the Federal Laender, as well as reports submitted to the RAPEX rapid alert system, can draw attention to dangerous products, they are not an instrument for the systematic monitoring of product safety.
The BfR is tied into the REACH processes as an assessment body with the remit of assessing chemicals from a health point of view and calculating the risk they pose to consumers. The REACH congress has been held every two years since 2012 on the initiative of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). It is organised alternately by the federal institutions involved in the REACH process: the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) and German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.
This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.