Manufacturers have to inform about pollutants

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Improved customer right to information about pollutants in products

Since the beginning of the year, manufacturers have had to provide significantly more comprehensive information on the pollutants in their products in accordance with the European chemicals regulation REACH. The stricter regulations apply, for example, to "four perfluorinated chemicals that are used for outdoor clothing because of their water-repellent properties," reports the Federal Environment Agency in a recent press release. A total of 54 new chemicals had been added to the list of pollutants at the beginning of the year, about which manufacturers must inform consumers on request.

In the past, pollutants in various products - from textiles to children's toys - have repeatedly caused a sensation. Consumer and environmental protection organizations have repeatedly been able to demonstrate exposure to chemicals that are hazardous to health. Although manufacturers have had to provide information on certain chemicals contained in the product since 2007 according to an EU regulation, the list of pollutants subject to disclosure was not particularly extensive at the beginning. Since then, several new potentially hazardous substances have been included over the years and at the beginning of 2013 the number of listed pollutants increased by a further 54 to a total of 136. Consumers are therefore granted a significantly more extensive right to information, but very few will make a corresponding request to manufacturers before purchasing.

When shopping, consumers cannot tell which pollutants are contained in rain jackets, children's toys, pans and pots, for example. Customers are looking in vain for a kind of list of ingredients, as is common with food. However, it is possible to contact the manufacturer with a request for information about the chemicals used. According to the European Chemicals Regulation REACH, manufacturers are obliged to provide consumers with information about at least certain contaminants that may be contained. In order to improve the information options for customers, the list of chemicals that are subject to disclosure requirements has now been significantly expanded. From now on, the stricter regulations also apply, for example, "to four perfluorinated chemicals that are used for outdoor clothing because of their water-repellent properties," reports the Federal Environment Agency.

Harmful pollutants in a wide variety of products The so-called perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFC) are also used as non-stick coatings in cookware (pans, pots) and in paper products due to their water, dirt and fat-repellent properties, reports the Federal Environment Agency. Since PFCs are only slowly degraded naturally, they accumulate in all environmental media, especially in rivers and seas. In addition, there is an enrichment along the food chain, which leads to the fact that the PFC can also be detected in the blood and breast milk of humans and animals, according to the Federal Environment Agency. Due to their hazard potential, "four representatives were classified as substances of very high concern and as such were included in the REACH candidate list". In addition to the "four PFCs, nonylphenol and the group of octylphenol ethoxylates" were also placed on the candidate list due to their hormonal effects, reports the Federal Environment Agency. In addition, some phthalates, which can be contained as plasticizers in plastic toys or electrical cables, have been added to the REACH candidate list. Manufacturers are required to provide information on the chemicals on the list as soon as they make up 0.1 percent of the product.

Consumer right to information on chemicals harmful to health According to the Federal Environment Agency, the REACH candidate list includes “substances with carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive properties; Substances that are long-lasting and toxic and accumulate in organisms and - after a decision on a case-by-case basis - substances that act on the hormone system. ”As soon as a chemical is added to the list, the“ consumers have a right to information ”, the manufacturers and importers and retailers are obliged to inform on request whether the substance is contained in a product. If there is a suspicion that products contain chemicals that are harmful to health, a corresponding request can provide information verbally, by post or by e-mail. "The easiest way to do this is online with a form," reports the Federal Environment Agency. Here you can send a query to the manufacturer of the product by entering the article number.

Much work to be done to protect the environment and human beings from harmful chemicals. Within 45 days, manufacturers have to answer consumer inquiries and provide information about possible contaminants. However, if there are no chemicals from the candidate list in the products, there is no need to answer the customer, according to the legal requirements. If consumers are convinced that there was no response, even though chemicals from the candidate list are included, it is possible to report this to a competent control authority after the period of 45 days, whereby the authority in the state of the manufacturer is always responsible. According to the Federal Environment Agency, it is "the aim of the REACH regulation that these substances are gradually replaced by suitable alternative substances or technologies." Listed substances could also be subject to an authorization requirement, so that they can only be marketed and used after prior official approval , the authority explained the advantages of the REACH candidate list. The President of the Federal Environment Agency added: "There is still a lot to do in the future to protect the environment and human beings from the harmful effects of chemicals." to put all relevant substances of very high concern on the candidate list. "

However, the question arises of how effective the previous regulations actually are. Experience has shown that the proportion of consumers who make a corresponding request to companies should be rather low. (fp)

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Image: Alexander Dreher /

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