How much do we know about the chemicals in our homes? How dangerous are they? Our guest, Mary Creagh MP, wants to hear your views.
This is a guest post by Mary Creagh MP. All views expressed are Mary’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
It started with a simple question to four of the UK’s leading experts on chemicals, ‘Do you have Teflon pans in your home?’
The answer? Two did. Two didn’t. Fifty-fifty.
Why we’re investigating
Teflon is one of the toughest chemicals ever produced and does not degrade in the environment. If experts cannot agree on its use and safety, how are we supposed to understand the risks from products in our lives?
We, the Environmental Audit Committee in Parliament, have been investigating toxic chemicals in everyday life. We have taken evidence from experts in ecotoxicology, fire science, product safety, chemical manufacturers and retailers.
The World Health Organisation estimates 1.6 million deaths were attributable to chemicals in 2016. It’s no wonder that public awareness of these issues is on the rise, especially as the number of chemicals increases and methods of testing improve.
A recent survey (PDF attached) found 84% of EU consumers were worried about the health implications of chemicals in everyday products, while 90% were concerned about the environmental impact.
Dangerous chemicals in homes
We heard that dangerous chemicals have been identified in our homes, toys and food packaging, sometimes getting into our blood and women’s breast milk. We don’t know how they interact with us, or with each other.
In the UK, furniture flammability regulations mean that every home contains several kilograms of flame retardants, which are no longer used elsewhere in the world. They can make up to 20% of a mattress filling and are in our sofas, sleeping bags, pushchairs and cot mats.
Some flame retardants, e.g. organophosphates and brominates, have been classed as harmful since they were first used in British furniture, and subsequently banned. Some of these flame retardants can make the smoke produced during a blaze more toxic.
Yet these regulations have remained unchanged for more than 30 years, despite two Government consultations, the last of which was in 2016 and has still not been published.
Product safety experts say it is difficult and expensive to keep up with the number of new chemicals that enter the market each year. They argue we need to move towards testing groups of similar chemicals rather than one by one.
While retailers say they are open to more transparency and ensure products they place on the market are safe for consumers. They claim chemicals are in use all around us and in most cases enhance our lives and so worry about alarming people.
The lack of information on labels means consumers are unaware of the chemicals in the products they buy and use. Under EU legislation, consumers have a right to know if products contain certain chemicals at a level that could be harmful to human health and the environment.
The EU is developing the AskREACH initiative, which will enable consumers to scan a barcode through a mobile app to find out what substances are present in a product and at what level.
So, how much do we really know about these chemicals? How much do we need to know? And how concerned should we be about their presence in our lives? Would an initiative like AskREACH be beneficial to UK consumers? And how should chemical information, which is often complicated and technical, be presented?
We want to hear from you on these issues. What are your concerns? We want to ask the Government to address them and make your voice heard.
We should only be exposed to chemicals when necessary and should all have enough knowledge to make informed decisions about the products we buy, for ourselves and our families.
Let us know in the comments here on Which? Conversation, and take our short survey here.
This was a guest post by Mary Creagh MP. All views expressed were Mary’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.