2 years ago
25 May, 2021
Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Government promised, as part of its 25-year Environment Plan, to deliver a chemicals strategy this spring. It will set out the UK’s approach to managing chemicals, that have the potential to cause harm to public health and the environment. Yet current regulations are failing to protect us!
Chemical regulations determine which chemicals can be used in everyday products. And, can ultimately end up in our environment. This includes authorising or restricting chemicals that may cause cancer, are toxic, and/or interfere with our endocrine (or hormone) system. Breast Cancer UK has long been concerned that exposure to these chemicals is increasing our vulnerability to breast cancer.
Synthetic chemicals play a vital role in everyday life. They can be found in many products that we use regularly from cleaning to cosmetics and skin products. Most of us aren’t aware that these chemicals can enter our bodies through the food and drink we consume, the air we breathe and the creams, soaps, perfumes, and toothpaste we absorb through our skin. Often, however, we take the safety of chemicals for granted. By forgetting the potential risks of certain chemicals to our health.
Sadly, this means we expose ourselves to a cocktail of chemicals throughout our daily lives. From bisphenols in plastics, phthalates in cosmetics, flame retardants in furniture to PFAS in food packaging. These chemicals, known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are of particular concern. They can not only impact our health but, also the health of subsequent generations.
Many diseases have been linked to EDC exposure. Including breast and prostate cancers, obesity, diabetes, and reproductive problems. For example, Bisphenol A (BPA) is an EDC used in food and drink packaging and has been linked to increased breast cancer risk. There is mounting scientific evidence that exposure to BPA can affect how breast tissue develops. BPA can make breast cells more cancerous or malignant. It was identified as a substance of concern by the EU in 2017.
We can all take action to avoid harmful chemicals. But, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Government and industry to deliver safe products and a clean environment. Yet, current regulations are slow and inconsistent. It can take years to restrict or ban a harmful chemical.
For years, UK citizens have benefitted from environmental and public health protections through the EU chemicals regulation ‘REACH’. Whilst not perfect, this regulation is considered the ‘global standard’. It has led to the restriction of numerous chemicals linked to breast cancer, including BPA in baby bottles and till receipts and formaldehyde in cosmetics.
With Brexit, the UK left this system, setting up a UK-only system for regulating harmful chemicals known as UK REACH. Sadly, in recent weeks, we have seen attempts by representatives of the Chemicals industry to weaken UK REACH by relaxing rules on supplying safety data. Equally concerning, in March, the Government confirmed that the UK will match only two of the EU’s 13 proposed restrictions, excluding action on substances such as microplastics.
These developments are alarming. They risk the UK becoming a dumping group for harmful chemicals. This, despite assurances from Ministers that standards would go up not down. Such an outcome will undermine efforts to prevent breast cancer and other diseases.
A comprehensive approach to preventing disease must take into account the role that chemicals play in human disease when they interact with our bodies. The EU’s recently published “Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability” and ‘Beating Cancer Plan” both committed to banning EDCs in consumer products and reducing exposure to carcinogens.
In contrast, and despite mounting scientific evidence, UK public health and cancer plans don’t mention the need to reduce public exposure to harmful chemicals. This is fundamentally wrong and weakens our battle to prevent diseases such as breast cancer.
Therefore, the government’s approach to prevention remains flawed. This sad fact has also been recognised by the former Chief Medical Officer, the Environmental Audit Committee, and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Increasingly, the public is also demanding action. A recent survey found that 85% of UK respondents were worried about the impact of harmful chemicals on human health.
The UK Chemicals strategy provides a golden opportunity to right this wrong. That’s why we’re calling on the UK Chemicals Strategy to:
To protect public health and the environment, keeping harmful chemicals out of our daily lives must be treated as a post-Brexit priority!
Joint Letter to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice MP
Reduce your risk: Chemicals and Environment Pages
Background Briefing: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
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