The government plans to ease regulatory requirements on key chemicals, in what experts fear could be the first step towards a weaker post-Brexit safety regime for potentially toxic substances.
Proposals published last week without fanfare on a government website set out some of the new rules planned for the new national chemicals regulator post-Brexit. The proposals would change the way ‘substances of very high concern’ – which includes potential toxins and carcinogens, and chemicals that persist for a long time in the environment – are handled.
Under EU law, these chemicals are formally identified and publicly listed on a “candidate list”, while authorities analyze them and decide whether to ban them or allow their use in certain circumstances, transferring them on an “allow list”. Companies should notify regulators and their supply chains when dealing with products containing these candidate chemicals, encouraging them to use alternatives.
Under the government’s proposals, companies will not be obliged to submit information on “substances of very high concern”, but will be allowed to do so on a voluntary basis. Only chemicals eligible for transfer to the “authorization list” would be placed on the “candidate list”, which means that a smaller number of chemicals to be notified will be analysed.
Zoe Avison, policy analyst at think tank Green Alliance, said: “Relying on voluntary data submissions by chemical companies will almost certainly see hazardous substances slip through the cracks. The UK could have taken sensible steps to reduce costs to industry and protect public health. However, the government has locked itself in a corner. After the new deadline for companies to submit safety data for the UK market, this is a very worrying sign for the future of chemicals regulation in the UK.
Experts told the Guardian they fear the government’s decision will weaken protections against harmful substances and allow potentially toxic chemicals to slip through the net.
Michael Warhurst, executive director of the Chem Trust, a charity which campaigns against harmful chemicals, said: ‘It appears the government is imposing unnecessary layers of information before acting which will lead to regulatory inaction. on a range of harmful substances. This will open the door to UK consumers and the environment having greater exposure to harmful chemicals than in the EU, and a second-rate system for regulating chemicals after Brexit.
Jamie Page, from the Cancer Prevention and Education Society, added: ‘We are concerned that the protections that UK citizens previously enjoyed are now being eroded. The further the UK deviates from the EU [registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals] system and database, the more likely people are to be exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals.
Government proposals will not be subject to public consultation and will not require a vote in parliament. Under the post-Brexit legal arrangements, ministers can make such changes without discussion.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are committed to maintaining an effective regulatory system for the management and control of chemicals that protects human health and the environment and can respond to emerging risks. We have published our draft approach to the list of candidates in UK Reach. This approach aims to ensure that we have a single, consistent approach to nominating substances for the Candidate List. »