Guest blog by: Andrea Speranza, Brexit Campaigner, CHEM Trust
If you are reading this blog it is probably because you are a Women ‘s Environmental Network (WEN) member or you are very familiar with their work. So, you would not be surprised if I tell you that the WEN forum held just few weeks ago was utterly inspiring.
How can it be otherwise when you have over a hundred women in a room ready to learn, share and take action. On that particular evening, it was all about finding out more about the effect of toxic chemicals in our daily life by watching a powerful film called “Stink”.
This film takes place in the US and narrates the journey of a man, recently widowed, trying to find out what chemicals had been used in the manufacture of a pair of stinky new pyjamas that he had given to his daughters as Christmas presents. After being misinformed and not-informed-at-all, he finally confirmed his worries.
The film also shows, with brutal realism, the links between the chemical industry and politicians, as well as the mechanisms in place to keep the public uninformed. Incredibly worrying, isn’t?
With some relief, we can say that things are very different here in the UK. Currently, we are protected from hazardous chemicals by the EU's leading chemicals policy, REACH, which, although not perfect, is considered the best chemical regulation in the world. During the last decade, REACH has gathered the most comprehensive database of chemicals usage and properties on earth, and by the end of 2018 it should cover every single substance manufactured in, or imported into, the European Union in quantities over 1 tonne.
Far from the challenges faced by the protagonist of the film (nobody is willing to tell him the chemicals contained in the pyjamas he purchased), REACH gives UK people the "consumer's right to know". This means that, through this piece of EU legislation, it has been made possible for consumers to have the legal right to ask their supplier whether the articles they buy contain any chemicals that might have serious effects on health or the environment (known as "substances of very high concern”). The supplier has to answer any consumer request on this matter within 45 days.
But this all is about to change as the UK government do not want to stay in this world-leading EU chemical law after Brexit. The Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove says he wants to create a new system from scratch. However, this new system would neither have access to the shared technical expertise of the EU member states nor to the REACH database. This will make it very difficult for the UK to assess the safety of chemicals, potentially putting at risk people’s health and the environment. Additionally, rights, such as the one to know about substances of very high concern in the products we purchase, could simply go too.
The dangers of leaving the EU chemicals regulation system is one of the topics that we discussed at the film screaming of Stink. CHEM Trust ‘s Executive Director Dr Michael Warhurst highlighted the danger of lowering our current level of protection from problematic chemicals. CHEM Trust also ran a stall that evening where we talked to at least 100 WEN members who want to take action to stop Michael Gove. And we did it!
Just a few days later WEN, CHEM Trust, Weleda and a further 16 organisations sent a joint letter to Michael Gove urging him to keep the UK in REACH after Brexit.
However, we need to do much more, and we cannot do it without your help! It is crucial that you write to your MP too, and urge her/him to raise this issue with Michael Gove (you can find a template letter here, although a personalised version is always much more powerful). It is also crucial that you encourage family members, friends and colleagues to do the same.
Additionally, you can share information on this issue via your social media channels (you can re-tweet the joint letter we sent to Michael Gove or other CHEM Trust blogs)
CHEM Trust is currently campaigning to keep the UK in REACH after Brexit. We are working collaboratively with a wide range of organisations to achieve this objective.
Since this blog post was published, we have received a response from Defra regarding the letter we sent Michael Gove on 24th October. To our disappointment the Government did not commit to keeping the UK in REACH (or as close as possible to it) after Brexit. The letter just states for example: “The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will convert current EU law into domestic and use the powers to amend REACH, as well as other related chemicals regulation to make them work properly in the UK, giving consumers and business as much certainty as possible. This will mean that the standards establish by REACH will continue to apply in the UK”
However, this is simply not possible without the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). In practice, this means that UK regulators will have to make decisions on chemical controls with very limited information and the result of this is likely to be a reduction in the protection of human health and the environment in the UK.
Plus, contradicting what was stated in the letter signed by Therese Coffey, when questioned by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) last November, Michael Gove acknowledged that at some point in the future, the UK would move away and do things differently. In fact, one of Michael Gove's responses to the EAC implied that it would be possible to manufacture chemicals which are not allowed to be manufactured or sold in the EU, but which could be sold in other markets where the levels of protections are lower! This not only will put at risk the health of British workers and the environment but is also completely unacceptable on moral grounds.
It is all very concerning. So, perfect timing for emailing your MPs on this!
Please contact Andrea Speranza on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
What can you do?
Write to your MP - find out who your MP is HERE
Use this template HERE