EU plans to ban most-harmful chemicals from consumer products

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will propose in 2022 a ban on the most health-damaging chemicals as additives in consumer products, the bloc’s executive said on Wednesday.

EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans (not pictured) address a joint news conference at the EU Commission headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium October 14, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Pool

The EU already has the world’s most stringent chemicals laws, including a broad ban on carcinogenic substances in consumer products such as children’s toys, cosmetics and food packaging.

The European Commission will propose rules next year to enable group restrictions of other most-harmful chemicals, replacing a current case-by-case approach to restricting them. The proposal for a ban will follow in 2022.

Affected substances include endocrine disruptors, which interfere with hormones in ways that can affect the reproductive system, and very persistent chemicals that do not break down if they enter the human body or environment.

The ban on these substances in consumer products may be expanded later to include chemicals that affect respiratory and immune systems.

Exemptions would be granted for substances deemed essential for specific uses, such as in health or emissions-cutting technologies, where there are no acceptable alternatives.

EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said it was not possible to count how many chemicals the rules would cover, but that the Commission had already identified a couple of hundred.

“This is a large group, a large number of chemicals which are going to be addressed. It’s only going to expand.”

NGOs welcomed the clampdown on harmful substances, but some EU lawmakers and corporations said the proposals failed to tackle the use of polluting fossil fuels to produce chemicals.

Peter ter Kulve, president of consumer goods giant Unilever’s home care division, said the policy was “a missed opportunity for policymakers to address the invisible but vast carbon footprint of chemicals in Europe”.

The chemicals sector is the world’s biggest industrial consumer of oil and gas. Primary chemicals production emitted 880 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency.

Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by John Chalmers