Risky chemicals at large in UK high street stores

Some high street stores in the UK persist in putting consumers’ health at risk through the presence of dangerous chemicals in their goods, according to a survey published this week by Friends of the Earth (FoE).

FOE has compiled a ‘naming and shaming’ league table of retail companies, ranking them in accordance to their approach to risky chemicals in consumer goods, based on answers from a questionnaire.

The survey focused on seven chemicals – such as bioaccumulative and hormone-disrupting types – which the Danish and Swedish governments have identified as a threat to consumer health. These included brominated flame retardants – found in household fabrics like sofas, and bisphenol A – found in transparent baby bottles. Amongst some of the health risks that these chemicals are feared to cause are lower sperm counts, earlier puberty in girls and increased rates of testicular cancer. Some of these chemicals are also found to accumulate in breast milk.

The stores were questioned on whether their products contained these chemicals, whether they are looking for safer alternatives to use instead, if they had a phase out date set for dangerous chemicals and whether they inform the consumer of chemical presence and potential risk in their goods. IKEA, the Body Shop and Co-op were in the top three for tackling these risky chemicals.

This survey is part of the ‘FoE Campaign for Safer Chemicals’ and comes at a time when the EU is reviewing policies on chemical safety. Late last year the European Parliament rejected the European White Paper to expand a ban on dangerous chemicals (see related story), but FOE want to rectify this situation.

Dr Michael Warhurst, Safer Chemicals Campaigner at FOE, says: “We want the EU to bring in tough regulations to get rid of chemicals that contaminate our bodies, and to force industry to use the safest chemicals.” FOE are supported by such groups as the Worldwide Fund for Nature and European consumers organisation BEUC in campaigning for the Copenhagen Charter implementation (see related story), a series of policies that would advance the regulation of chemicals.

In the survey, FoE asked companies if they were satisfied by the support they received from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the department mainly responsible for chemicals in consumer products. Most companies stated that they were dissatisfied over input from the DTI. FoE has called for greater support from the DTI for companies who wish to replace risky chemicals with safer alternatives. The DTI told edie they were playing a “very active role” in the European Chemicals Strategy, but declined to comment on their alledged neglect of consumer stores with regard to hazardous chemicals.

Amid the hope for an EU review of chemical safety regulation, Dr Warhurst voiced fears that the UK Government may block any policies to get rid of chemicals that are health risks in the UK and Europe.

Story by Sorcha Clifford

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