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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bennett

Safe and sustainable use of chemicals

The EU's chemicals strategy for sustainability aims to better protect citizens and the environment by promoting the safe and sustainable use of chemicals. This strategy is aligned with the EU's zero pollution ambition, which is a key commitment of the European Green Deal.


The strategy sets policy goals to minimize the use of chemicals with chronic effects on human health and the environment, phase out the most harmful chemicals for non-essential societal use, and address potential adverse impacts of chemicals on the environment and human health.  The strategy includes actions such as banning the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, accounting for the cocktail effect of chemicals, phasing out the use of certain substances, and promoting innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals. It also emphasizes the importance of simplifying the risk and hazard assessment of chemicals and playing a leading role globally by championing and promoting high standards. 


However, there are critical reviews of the strategy, suggesting that it mainly focuses on adverse impacts and hazard to human health, with unclear linkage to address major sustainability issues, such as environmental pollutants. It has been suggested that the strategy lacks a comprehensive evaluation methodology for the impact of chemicals.


Nonetheless, the strategy remains a crucial part of the EU's efforts to address chemical pollution and ensure the safe and sustainable use of chemicals in line with its environmental goals.  The strategy reflects public concerns and scientific findings regarding the potential adverse impacts of chemicals on the environment and human health, and it serves as a political mandate to close knowledge gaps, communicate new findings effectively, and improve regulations to minimize the risk of chemical exposure for human and environmental health.


Here are some examples of specific chemicals addressed in the strategy: 


1. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): The strategy aims to phase out the use of PFAS in the EU, unless their use is essential. PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals used in a wide range of industries due to their water and oil repellent properties. 


2. Glyphosate: The strategy may address the use of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide. Glyphosate has been a topic of debate due to its potential impact on the environment and human health. 


3. Endocrine Disruptors: The strategy aims to address endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that can interfere with the endocrine (hormone) system and potentially cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. 


4. Bisphenols: The strategy may address bisphenols, which are a group of chemicals used in the production of certain plastics and resins. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a well-known example of this group and has been a subject of concern due to its potential health effects. 


5. Phthalates: The strategy may also focus on phthalates, a group of chemicals commonly used to make plastics more flexible. Some phthalates have been restricted or banned in certain products due to their potential health risks.  These examples illustrate how the EU's chemicals strategy for sustainability is designed to address specific chemicals and their potential impacts on human health and the environment.


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