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Inquiry launched to investigate the impact of toxic chemicals in everyday products

  • United Kingdom
  • Industrials
  • Industrials - Chemicals


The Environmental Audit Committee (“EAC”) has launched an inquiry to investigate the impact of toxic chemicals on everyday life (launched 12 February 2019). The inquiry will focus on the use of toxic chemicals in everyday products including furniture, food and toys. These chemicals include flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and endocrine disruptors which take years to break down naturally, accumulating in living organisms and proving toxic to humans and wildlife. Humans are exposed to these chemicals particularly through dust particles and food products. The current regulation of these chemicals will also be considered as part of the inquiry.

The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended) regulate the fire resistance of furniture products. In 2010 this legislation was reviewed by the Government and it concluded there was an over use of potentially harmful flame retardant chemicals. However, there has been no significant action from Government in response to this until now.  

Launching the inquiry, Chair of the EAC Mary Creagh commented that “the Government is committed to reducing harmful chemical levels in soils and rivers in its 25 Year Environmental Plan, this inquiry aims to find out whether ministers are doing enough to protect the environment and ensure the risk to human health from toxic chemicals is minimised.”

Participants are invited to consider multiple questions across three terms of reference. These questions include:

  1. Why are toxic chemicals used? What benefit do they offer? How are toxicity levels measured? Are they widely available and affordable for producers? How do producers make consumers aware of health risks identified in their products?
  2. What are the environmental concerns? What is the environmental risk from toxic chemicals? How are flame retardant treated products currently disposed of and what problems have been identified with methods of disposal? Should materials treated with flame retardants be available for use as recycled material in consumer products?
  3. UK Policy - How should Substances of Very High Concern be regulated post Brexit? How should the Government manage risk from newly identified toxic chemicals post Brexit? Are the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended) fit for purpose? What risks and opportunities does Brexit present to the regulation and import of these substances? What is the likely status of the UK’s continued participation in the Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX) post Brexit?

The EAC previously considered the future of chemical regulation post Brexit in 2016 and 2017 and most recently held an oral session on this issue in December 2018. Eversheds Sutherland partner Elizabeth Shepherd was on the panel providing oral evidence. The write up of this session can be found here.

Given the potential implications for manufacturers and businesses across a range of industries, not just the chemical sector, it will be interesting to see the responses the inquiry receives, particularly at a time when businesses are continuing to prepare for the impact of Brexit on chemical regulation.

Submissions are requested from those with insight by 8 March 2019 and should be made here.