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Toxic free beauty - safe cosmetics

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REACH - Eliminating Toxic Chemicals in the EU



REACH - Eliminating Toxic Chemicals in the EU

Working to ensure that by 2020 all consumer products are free of hazardous chemicals

| WECF Campaign


Countries: EU
Donors: European Commission, DG Environment; Ministry of Housing Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM), The Netherlands
Partners: WEN, Deutscher Hausfrauenbund, EWMD, BUND, Greenpeace, EEB, ZijActief
Issues: Chemicals & Health
Duration: 01/2004 - 12/2006

WECF is concerned about chemicals. We are concerned about the chemicals that we are exposed to everywhere, every day, without our knowledge: in the shower, in front of the computer, in the kitchen and in the workplace. These chemicals are polluting our air, rivers, seas and wildlife.

To date, up to 300 chemicals have been detected in the human body alone. These chemicals are passed on by each generation, directly from mother to child. Alarmingly, of the 100 000 chemicals on the European market, only 14% have ever been tested for their health and environment effects. This is an unacceptable regulatory gap.

As women, we are differently affected by hazardous chemicals. This does not only concern women’s health in general, but also women’s reproductive health and the healthy development of future generations. In 2006, we published the first international brochure written by women for women, on hazardous chemicals in our daily environment.

“Women and their toxic world” examines how women’s lives and that of future generations are threatened by hazardous chemicals, why strong chemicals policies are needed to end this threat and what women can do to protect themselves and future generations.

  • Download the brochure Women and Their Toxic World
  • Download the updated brochure text following the adoption of the new EU chemicals policy REACH

The WECF vision is that by 2020 all hazardous chemicals are phased out of everyday consumer products. In order to make consumer products safe, any chemicals policy must have these chemicals policy principles at heart:

  • the precautionary principle
  • the substitution principle
  • the polluter-pays principle
  • the public’s right to know

REACH- the new EU chemicals legislation

Over the last few years, WECF has lobbied intensively for a new EU chemicals policy. The new EU chemicals policy, called REACH, was necessary because little is known about more than 100 000 chemicals on the EU market. As a result hazardous chemicals find a widespread application in everyday consumer products, even if they are known to cause a variety of serious and irreversible health effects.

Following years of tough negotiations and unprecedented industry pressure REACH was finally adopted in December 2006 by the European Parliament and EU member states. REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals and has entered into force in June 2007.

While REACH is certainly an important step towards a toxic-free future, WECF is very concerned about the many loopholes in the final text. Therefore, we question the effectiveness of REACH in terms of its capacity to protect women and future generations from hazardous chemicals in their everyday lives.

Find out more about WECF’s assessment of REACH from this in the BBC interview with WECF policy coordinator, Daniela Rosche.

For more information about the new chemicals law you can also consult the NGO REACH guide for consumers, My Voice. A more detailed analysis of REACH is given in the activist guide to REACH Navigating REACH.

Policy corner

Request for an internal review of the EU Commission workings concerning the selection of the Executive Director for the European Chemicals Agency, September 2007.

Substitution under REACH: will it make consumer products safer?

One of the key indicators of the effectiveness of REACH will be the substitution of hazardous chemicals in the Authorization procedure. A list of hazardous chemicals that will need to be substituted by safer alternative is expected to be available from the website of the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) as early as fall 2008.

Nevertheless it is important that consumers start asking companies and retailers now about hazardous chemicals in everyday consumer products. The new WECF pocket size guide tells consumers how to shop for toxic free products and which chemicals to watch out for.

Download the WECF shoppers guide.

It is important for companies and producers of consumer goods to know, which chemicals the public is especially concerned about. WECF is part of a joint NGO project that aims at putting together a list of chemicals that should no longer be used in consumer products. Find out more about this project and watch out for a release of the NGO chemicals “blacklist” in 2008.

In the meantime, find out from these websites below, which companies are leading the toxic-free future:

Chemicals in the household

For an overview of a selection of chemicals in the home and what companies are doing to substitute hazardous chemicals, read the Greenpeace progress report. More in the “Substitute with Style” report.

Cosmetics

Safer cosmetics campaign in the US.
Greenpeace guide to safer cosmetics “Mooi”

Electronics

Greenpeace Electronics Ranking

EU Pesticides Legislation

Despite existing legislation pesticides are still in widespread use in the EU. Because of their inherent toxicity to humans and the environment, WECF is concerned with how they are regulated. Especially women and future generations bear the burden of contamination and disease stemming from hazardous chemicals in food, air, water and soil.

Since 2006, the EU is working to reform its pesticides legislation in the form of a Thematic Strategy on Sustainable Use of Pesticides. The Thematic Strategy sets out the direction for regulating and reducing the use of pesticides in the EU in a so-called Framework Directive.

Following the release of the draft legislation by the European Parliament in 2006, the members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) have been discussing the new legislation. In October MEPs conclude their first round of deliberations with a plenary vote.

The outcomes of the vote are only partly positive from a women’s standpoint, because the EP failed to adopt mandatory reduction targets for the use of pesticides in the Union.

In the coming months EU member states will be discussing their position on the new EU pesticides legislation proposals. A first draft opinion by EU member states is expected to be presented by mid 2008.

Policy Corner:

  • WECF supports PAN Europe demands for the new EU pesticides legislation
  • Letter of WECF members and partners to the EP’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) expressing their demands for the first reading plenary vote, October 2007

Toxic chemicals and children’s health

Children clearly bear the highest burden of disease and contamination when it comes to hazardous chemicals because they are far more vulnerable than adults to their negative health effects. The contamination of the child with hazardous chemicals starts in the womb.

While the placenta does an excellent job of protecting the foetus from other health factors like harmful bacteria, it is no barrier to many toxic chemicals. Small, neutrally charged molecules which easily dissolve in fat simply pass through. Hazardous chemicals can attach themselves to such molecules and so pass through the placenta without any obstruction.

The chemicals a child receives from its mother, via the placenta and later through breastmilk, are in turn stored in the child’s body, where they disturb the child’s development. In addition, the vulnerability of children continues throughout their development because, compared to adults, they eat, drink and breathe more in relation to their body weight.

This means that their relative intake of hazardous chemicals from air and food is higher. Associated long-term health effects are learning disabilities, attention deficits, allergies, asthma, cancer and reproductive disorders. Many of those health effects may only become visible once the child has reached puberty or adulthood.

Policy Corner:

  • Bringing the chemicals issue closer to citizens in the new EU member states was the theme of a joint workshop held by WECF and our partner the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) in April 2006, in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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