Protect us from hazardous chemicals

European coalition presents Declaration for a Toxics Free Future

Feature story - 8 July, 2003
Over 22,000 people and a wide-ranging collection of public interest organisations presented a Declaration for a Toxics Free Future to European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom. The Declaration calls on the European Commission to protect our health and environment from hazardous chemicals in future EU chemicals law now under review.

On behalf of coalition, two children present European Commissioner Wallstrom with Declaration for a Toxics Free Future

Protected by Toxics Ted, a large teddy bear who defends children against toxic chemicals, Clara Leetz, 6, and Leila, 7, handed the Declaration to Commissioner Wallstrom, underlining the concerns about the risks to children and babies, who are the most vulnerable to the effects of hazardous chemicals.

Representatives from the European Consumers' Organisation, the European Public Health Association, Women in Europe for a Common Future, World Wildlife Fund, European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace joined together at the event to present the Commission with the list of demands for greater chemicals control.

The range of organisations - environmental, consumer, health and women's groups - demonstrates the wide-ranging impact of the EU's future chemical legislation and its relevance to people's daily lives. The Declaration was also supported by organisations including the Netherlands' Council of Women, the German Childbirth Association, and the British Allergy Foundation.

People and wildlife are already contaminated with man-made chemicals. 300 man-made chemicals have been found in the bodies of people that have had no special exposure to chemicals. The chemicals crisis is at such proportions that the unborn baby faces exposure from the moment of its conception. House dust and rainwater contains many hazardous chemicals that are found in consumer products and that we use every day, including body products, detergents, electronic goods, toys and textiles. So great is the number of chemicals all around us that we are constantly exposed to multiple doses - the combined effect of which could be affecting our health.

A separate declaration in favour of the European Commission's new legislation on chemicals, signed by more than 10,000 US citizens, has also been submitted by over 60 US organisations (including the Communications Workers of America and The Breast Cancer Fund). This is because the European Commission's new legislation on chemicals offers a real opportunity to begin controlling the spread of chemicals. Europe is the world's largest chemical producer, so what happens here could lead to better chemical legislation around the entire world.

Unbelievably, only a handful of chemicals have been assessed for the risks they pose and even then, little effective action has resulted. And many chemicals are still widely used even when they are known to be hazardous.

"Given our understanding of the way chemicals interact with the environment, you could say we are running a gigantic experiment with humans and all other living things as the subject" said one of the authors of a recent report by eminent UK scientists (1).

The Declaration asks the European Commission to ensure that its new legislation on chemicals includes:

  • an obligation to phase out and substitute chemicals that accumulate in wildlife, humans or the environment, and those that disrupt hormones;
  • a full right to know, for both consumers and businesses, including what chemicals are present in products;
  • a requirement that products imported into the EU have to conform to the same safety standards as those made in the EU.

We were pleased that Wallstrom viewed our demands as legitimate and welcomes our input in the Commission's current internet consultation process. Now the European Commission needs to act to ensure that its new legislation on chemicals will protect human health and the environment.

(1) Chemicals in products. Safeguarding human health and the Environment. A report by the UK Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution, June 2003.