EU environment ministers have concluded that further study of the combination effects of ‘chemical cocktails’ is needed and invited the EC to investigate. But a group of five consumer and environmental organisations, including Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), has criticised the council for failing to take action now.
Current legislation, including REACH, typically regulates chemicals individually, based on concentration limits, below which they are deemed safe. But different effects can arise when chemicals are mixed together. Concentrations of several chemicals that are safe in isolation could potentially become harmful when mixed.
The ministers said that ‘further action in the field of chemicals policy, research and assessment methods to address combination effects of chemicals is required’. Plans for an EC study of the risks associated with the combination effects of chemical mixtures, particularly those of endocrine disruptors, will be finalised in the next few months. The ministers invited the authors to assess the protection provided by existing legislation and recommend changes by 2012.
But the critical group of organisations says ‘urgent measures to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals from various sources and their substitution with safer alternatives’ are already needed.
In a 2009 study, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency looked at mixtures of hormone disrupting chemicals which twoyear- old children were exposed to through their food and the indoor environment. It concluded that there are situations in which exposure to multiple chemicals is of concern.
Amending REACH to account for chemical cocktails ‘would require a total rethink of the legislation’, says Fiona Ferguson from the UK Chemical Industries Association (CIA). ‘CIA members endeavour to ensure their chemical substances are used safely and in applications where they are fit for purpose. When it comes to the issue of chemical mixtures, the chemical industry has already offered its support and expertise to help regulators and policy makers,’ she adds.