In 'falling behind the EU,' the nation’s countryside and consumers will be exposed to ‘more toxic chemicals than our European neighbours.’
The government has announced it is to amend chemical regulations, reducing the ‘hazard’ information which chemical companies are legally obliged to provide to register substances in Britain.
The safety information will be reduced from a ‘hazard’ warning to an ‘irreducible minimum’ notice. Campaigners and experts warn the loosening of the law will increase the likelihood of toxic chemicals entering the environment and will leave Britain ‘lagging far behind the EU.’
The legislation is known as UK Reach, and took effect in 2021, when it replaced the EU Reach scheme. Under the EU’s scheme, eight rules restricting the use of hazardous chemicals have been put in place since Brexit. A further 16 are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, in the UK, no substances have been banned during this period and only two are being considered for restrictions – on lead ammunition and harmful substances in tattoo ink.
Environmental campaigners are urging the government to follow EU chemical regulations as standard and only diverge if there is a viable reason to do so.
Ruth Chambers, of the Greener UK coalition, informed how the government promised that its new post-Brexit chemicals system would maintain high standards.
“Reducing safety information to an ‘irreducible minimum’ does not instill confidence that the new UK system will put the health of consumers and the environment first. The UK will be lagging badly behind the EU,” said Chambers.
Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, also warns the UK is ‘falling behind,’ and, in doing so, is leaving the nation’s countryside and consumers exposed to ‘more toxic chemicals than our European neighbours.’
In “permanently damaging the ability of UK regulators to identify and prevent harmful chemical pollution,’ the new scheme would be a “misguided step in the wrong direction,” said Benwell.
“The government should commit to follow EU chemical restrictions as standard. It should also treat chemically-similar substances in groups to stop almost identical substances appearing on the market. This would free up time and money to follow global best practice, learning from countries around the world when other toxic risks are identified,” he added.
Chloe Alexander, UK chemicals campaigner at CHEM Trust, which aims to stop synthetic chemicals from causing long-term damage to wildlife and humans, said: “These proposals demonstrate the faults of a standalone system which insists on being independent of EU Reach – that makes it extremely difficult to minimise costs on industry without leaving consumers and the environment less protected from harmful chemicals.
“This statement confirms our long-held view that the UK Reach model will continue to be a poor relation to EU Reach,” she added.
Despite the multiple warnings about the impact the downgrading of the legislation is likely to have on the environment and human health, the Brexit-backing press jumped all over the story, claiming it is another example of a ‘Brexit freedom.’
‘UK to wield Brexit freedoms and throw another EU rule on the scrapheap,’ headlined the Express.
“The UK Government is set to break from Brussels rules dictating how chemical companies should register substances,” continued the report.
In response to criticism of the legislation, a Defra spokesperson told the Guardian: “We are reviewing our legislation to see whether we can deliver more effective and efficient outcomes for both the environment and business. We will continue to work closely with industry and other interested stakeholders to understand their concerns and discuss how these might be addressed while ensuring high levels of protection of human health and the environment.”
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward