ECHA’s Enforcement Forum coordinated the REACH-En-Force-4 (REF-4) project to test consumer products for 22 restricted chemicals listed in REACH Annex XVII. These include asbestos, benzene, lead, phthalates and toluene.
Throughout 2016 inspectors in 27 EU and EEA countries checked 5,625 products such as plastics, glues, spray paints, brazing fillers, textiles, jewellery and toys for restricted substances. They found that 82% of products complied with the REACH restrictions but 18% did not.
In its report, Forum REF-4 Project Report: Harmonised enforcement project on restrictions, the ECHA said the non-compliance rate “was high considering that REACH restrictions have been assigned to uses of chemicals with the highest risks to health or the environment”.
The most frequent breaches were: phthalates in toys (20% of inspected toys contained phthalates at levels above those permitted), cadmium in brazing fillers (14%) and asbestos fibres in products (14%).
ECHA said asbestos-containing products, for example catalytic heaters, thermos flasks and brake pads, were likely to be secondhand and manufactured before the restrictions prohibiting the sale of products containing asbestos came into force.
Inspectors also found high concentrations of chromium VI in leather goods (13% of the testing products) and cadmium in jewellery (12%).
Overall, most of the products that breached chemical restrictions had been imported from China (17%), or their origins could not be traced (39%).
The report says: “[These findings] highlight the companies’ responsibility to get information on the chemical composition of their products from their suppliers. This may also include proactively testing the products and making agreements between suppliers so that the chemical composition complies with the chemicals legislation.”
The UK inspected 444 products in total, behind Germany (1,757), Belgium (516) and Sweden (467).
In the Republic of Ireland, inspectors from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) found all of the 16 glues and adhesives assessed were compliant and did not contain the restricted chemicals benzene, chloroform or toluene.
However, 26% of the 37 jewellery products tested were removed from the market after the HSA found they contained excessive levels of lead, nickel or cadmium.
Kevin Buckley, the HSA’s senior inspector, said: “Exposure to excess nickel can cause dermatitis. Long-term lead exposure can damage the nervous system and be especially hazardous for children. Ingesting lower levels of cadmium, over a long period, can lead to kidney damage and cause bones to become fragile.”
He added: “Importers, manufacturers and distributors should be aware of the legal requirements governing the safety of products containing restricted chemicals. Retailers selling the products should check with their suppliers to ensure that their existing stock is compliant and all non-compliant stock should be removed from the shelves.
“Consumers can check the EU’s RAPEX system on the web, where potentially hazardous consumer products, identified across the EU, are listed weekly.”