The UK is planning to relax its post-Brexit regulations on chemicals even more.
The government plans to relax regulations on chemicals that originated from the EU, which experts warn may lead to an increase in the presence of harmful substances in the environment.
The government has proposed to decrease the amount of “hazard” information that chemical companies are required to submit in order to register substances in the UK. This reduction in safety information for chemicals has been deemed by campaigners to be inadequate and will cause the UK to fall behind the EU.
The UK’s program, known as UK Reach, is currently lagging behind the EU’s. Since 2021, the UK has not been included in the EU’s chemical regulations program, EU Reach. Eight regulations limiting the use of dangerous chemicals have been implemented by the EU post-Brexit, and 16 more are being developed. Meanwhile, the UK has not prohibited any substances and is only considering two restrictions: on lead ammunition and harmful ingredients in tattoo ink.
Advocates are urging the government to adopt EU chemicals regulations as the norm, deviating only if there is a valid justification. This would save regulators time and resources, and prevent harmful chemicals from entering the environment before they can be prohibited by the EU.
According to Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, the government is not keeping pace and is putting UK wildlife and consumers at risk of greater exposure to harmful chemicals compared to other European countries.
He stated that the proposed plan would be a detrimental move, causing long-term harm to the UK’s regulators’ capability to detect and stop hazardous chemical pollution.
According to Benwell, the recently implemented regulations favor cost-cutting for the chemicals sector rather than protecting the environment, ultimately putting public health and nature at risk.
He suggested that rather than doing the status quo, the government should pledge to adhere to EU chemical regulations. Additionally, similar chemicals should be grouped together to prevent nearly identical substances from being sold. This would allow for more efficient use of resources and following the best practices from other countries in identifying and addressing toxic risks.
Ruth Chambers, a member of the Greener UK coalition, expressed concern over the government’s promise to maintain high standards in their post-Brexit chemicals system. She believes that reducing safety information to a minimum does not inspire confidence in the UK’s ability to prioritize the health of consumers and the environment. This would put the UK far behind the EU in terms of regulations.
There is worry that the UK’s approach is not as strong as the EU’s, as it has less funding and staff to review chemical lists and determine if they pose a sufficient risk to health and the environment to warrant banning.
According to Chloe Alexander, a campaigner at CHEM Trust, a charity focused on preventing synthetic chemicals from harming humans and wildlife, the proposed regulations highlight the flaws of a separate system that prioritizes independence from EU Reach. This approach makes it challenging to reduce costs for the industry without compromising consumer and environmental safety from dangerous chemicals.
Decreasing the required disclosure of hazardous information by companies will place a greater responsibility on regulators to obtain the necessary information to restrict or manage dangerous substances. This is alarming as the current process is already inadequate in addressing chemical dangers and handling the rise of chemical contamination in the environment.
This statement affirms our longstanding belief that the UK Reach model will remain inferior to EU Reach.
A representative from Defra stated that they are currently assessing their laws to determine how they can improve results for both the environment and businesses in a more efficient manner.
We will maintain close collaboration with the industry and other concerned parties to comprehend their worries and discuss potential solutions that prioritize safeguarding human health and the environment.