Report Sheds Light on Trends in Chemicals That May Cause Cancer or Harm Unborn Babies
You may be aware that the European countries have undertaken to identify the dangers of every chemical sold in Europe, and to apply the precautionary principle -- which states that companies must prove a chemical is safe to sell it, relieving the government of the need to prove the chemical is unsafe before they can ban it.
First Report on Carcinogens, Mutagens, and Reproductive Toxins
Under new laws, every supplier of a chemical must report on the hazards of chemicals they sell in Europe. As data floods into the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), they have begun to analyze and sort out what we know, where we are at, and what the next steps to protect people and the environment should be.
ECHA has published a report of their first screening of the data on CMRs -- which is shorthand for chemicals that may cause cancer (C=carcinogens), genetic mutations that can be passed on to subsequent generations (M=mutagenic), or which affect fertility of can harm unborn babies in the womb or newborns via breastmilk (R=reproductive toxin).
40% of "Known" CMRs Not Found on the Market
In what appears to be good news, only 665 carcinogenic/mutagenic/reprotoxic chemicals have been reported to ECHA out of the 1116 which have been listed as known dangers by the European agencies.
That implies that 40% of the chemicals which once raised concerns are no longer in products on the European market. And because so much business is global, there is a good chance that elimination or substitution of these chemicals in Europe means that people around the world are getting safer products.
There are some reasons other than substitution that could contribute to a chemical not being reported, and much more analysis needed to draw final conclusions. But the magnitude of that statistic suggests an optimistic picture of progress.
2000 "New" Carcinogens, Mutagens, Reproductive Toxins Identified
The battle remains far from won, however. The ECHA report also mentions that a first scan of all the data reported under the new laws, which cover over 116,000 chemical substances, approximately 2000 chemicals have been self-identified by industry reports as having CMR properties.
Our worries about that statistic will not last too long though: the new laws in Europe foresee prioritizing these substances for closer evaluation. Industry must prove the chemicals are being used safely, or they will find their products banned from the EU market. Such bans inevitably pressure companies to improve their products everywhere they sell them.
There are many cases where a chemical that has pretty nasty properties can be used safely: especially where the chemical is used in a workplace applying the highest safety standards to protect workers, effective recycling and waste disposal methods, and the product manufactured does not contain the hazardous chemical any more by the time it reaches the consumer market. These uses of chemicals make our lives better through chemistry, with risks that are very manageable.
But as accidents do happen, and as studies continue to find hazardous chemicals in the children's products we rely on to protect and entertain our most precious family members, the need for better regulation and appication of the precautionary principle has never seemed more clear.
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