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EMF Studies

06 June 2017

Without EU Regulations on Chemicals, the United Kingdom Will Be a Toxic Dumping Ground

'The direct impact will be to place UK residents and 
ecosystems at greater risk of the environmental and 
health effects of toxic chemicals."  
Illustration:  Jasper Rietman
Without EU regulations on chemicals, the UK will be a toxic dumping ground
by Bruce Lourie, Opinion, The Guardian, 
1st June 2017

Companies looking to flog products containing disease-causing substances will face few obstacles in Brexit Britain

How safe will it be to bring up your kids in Britain after Brexit? I’m not talking about crime, or abuse, or drugs, but something less visible. EU citizens are arguably the safest people on the planet when it comes to exposure to suspected cancer-causing or otherwise harmful toxins. This is because of Reach – the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals scheme.

After Brexit, will we see an increased use of the chemicals used to make non-stick frying pans that end up in drinking water – chemicals that contribute to childhood obesity, testicular cancer and thyroid disease? These are the same chemicals that make clothes breathable and waterproof. They are called perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, and the EU is set to restrict the use of the most harmful among them.

Then there are the chemicals linked to ADHD and autism, cancer, male reproductive disorders, and more; chemicals perhaps not familiar to the average person, but widely known to environmental health researchers – Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, both restricted by the EU. Will the UK restrict their use, too, after Brexit? Or pursue a policy of looser regulation?

PFCs and phthalates represent just a few of the thousands of chemicals that make up the myriad products we use daily. These are found in everything from shampoos and body washes to food containers, antibacterial soaps, fabric coatings, plastic bottles, furniture and flooring: the list goes on and on.

Because of the onslaught of complex new chemical formulations and recent advances in our understanding of the harm that may be caused by subtle exposure to carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting substances, regulators have a difficult time staying on top of public health and safety. On their own, the average citizen can do very little to protect themselves.

Most obvious is the predilection of the Conservative government, which polls suggest is likely to continue after 8 June. Theresa May has signalled her preparedness to enact a hard Brexit, and the environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, doubtless views Reach as symbolic of onerous EU regulation. The farming minister, George Eustice, called “the precautionary principle” – putting the burden on companies to demonstrate that chemicals are safe before using them, the cornerstone of Reach’s approach – as “the wrong way to go about it”. The alternative is the laxer American model, and May’s interest in a US trade deal seems likely to mean the UK ends up with a much more permissive system, and more toxic chemicals.

What are the dangers to British citizens if Reach is dropped? Three things stand out. First, and assuming that the same political pressures that drove Brexit will act in the direction of greater independence and less regulation, the UK is likely to end up with weaker standards than the EU, meaning that fewer chemicals will be assessed, restricted or otherwise regulated. The direct impact will be to place UK residents and ecosystems at greater risk of the environmental and health effects of toxic chemicals.

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