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Restricted chemicals prevalent in EU goods

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has advised companies to obtain information on the chemical composition of their products from suppliers after a project found hundreds of products are in breach of the EU chemical safety regulation REACH.

Restricted chemicals prevalent in EU goods
Image credit: © European Chemicals Agency 2013
Restricted chemicals prevalent in EU goods
Image credit: © European Chemicals Agency, 2013

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.”


Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • Reach enforcement - The

    Permalink Submitted by Charles Parker on 23 March 2018 - 03:50 pm

    Reach enforcement - The breaches within the toy category are quite disturbing as they breach both the REACH and CE standards. I would guess that all the products tested appeared to comply with REACH in the labelling but on testing restricted substances were present, and not represented on the labelling. Maybe an idea would be to have a substantial database of products that pass the REACH standards that may be sold in the EU or post 2019 UK making it the responsibility of the Importers/wholesalers/retailers to check the data base with substantial penalties (turn over related) for breaches all the way down the supply chain. I do not personally see anything wrong with initial testing being carried out with entry on to the data base and brand random testing on imported stocks paid for by the importers or manufacturer at an agreed rate.


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