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ClientEarth Communications

5th June 2018


ECHA favouring microplastics industry opinion over scientific evidence of environmental damage

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been favouring industry during its initial gathering of evidence on microplastics, prompting environmental organisations to remind ECHA not to overlook or underestimate the risks for health and the environment when preparing the proposal to restrict the use of this pollutant.

In a letter sent today, ClientEarth, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), the International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec), Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF International) and Greenpeace, with the support of the Rethink Plastic Alliance, have raised concerns that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has lacked objectivity, by offering a particularly attentive ear to companies adding microplastics to their products.

Microplastics from these products, which include cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers used for cleaning, and paints among others are released into the water and the oceans, causing major pollution.

In January this year, the European commission entrusted the European Chemicals Agency to come up with an appropriate proposal to restrict microplastics intentionally added to products, to finally tackle this source of pollution and prevent further harm to the health of humans and wildlife.

The Agency’s call for evidence, which closed last month, was the first step of a long process, before the European Commission can adopt the restriction (expected in 2020).

During this first step, the Agency invited industries using microplastics to provide information so that it could exclude certain uses from the proposed restrictions. By contrast, the Agency did not show interest in receiving information from other stakeholders about the hazards and risks of microplastics, the letter stated.

Environmentalists are therefore concerned ECHA’s proposal will be too narrow and make it more challenging to obtain, in the end, a restriction that would truly tackle the issue of microplastics added to products.

ClientEarth lawyer Alice Bernard said: “The Chemicals Agency’s priority should be to ensure no risks are overlooked or underestimated, yet we witnessed a call for evidence with an excessive focus on protecting the interests of the businesses responsible for this microplastic pollution.”

“The Agency also seemed to open the door to derogations on grounds that are not in line with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction (REACH) regulation.”

European Environmental Bureau (EEB) senior policy officer Tatiana Santos said: “We are concerned that ECHA’s proposal will be too narrow, excluding relevant and harmful uses of microplastics before the competent scientific committees give their opinion, making it ultimately more difficult for the Commission to adopt the necessary restriction.

“What ECHA should focus on is on protecting people and the environment, the main goal of REACH.”

The letter makes recommendations regarding the microplastics dossier, and future restriction dossiers, including giving proper weight to the evidence showing risks to human health and the environment versus other factors, when drafting restriction proposals.