Companies got permission to use the most harmful banned chemicals in all 172 cases since Europe revised its chemicals laws in 2007. This week, the cancer-causing substance that made Erin Brockovich a household name, Chromium VI, is likely to become the 173rd case of a ‘banned’ substance approved for use.
Chromium VI is widely used as a shiny metallic plating on cosmetics packaging, jewellery, car parts and household fittings. With no safe exposure level, it has affected a million workers and is causing 300 deaths annually, with a lung cancer morbidity rate of 82 percent. It was banned in September 2017 under Europe’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations.
On Thursday, the Commission will ask member state officials to rubber stamp its draft approval to allow thousands more tonnes of Chromium VI be used in Europe, in several cases until as late as 2029. It follows a positive recommendation by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA).
A positive decision will fuel a growing problem of toxic chemical exposure, the leading cause of occupational cancers. Eighty five percent of occupational cancer cases come from exposure to only ten chemical agents. With more than 100,000 deaths per year, occupational cancers are the leading cause of death in the EU.
REACH is supposed to be the toughest set of chemical regulations in the world; banning harmful substances in order to stimulate the development of safer alternatives. Companies can apply for continued use by proving safe use; or that no safer alternatives are available and harmful use is outweighed by social benefits, such as DDT for use against Malaria.
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