Post-Brexit chemicals regime risks UK becoming ‘dumping ground’ for dangerous substances, campaigners warn

·2-min read
Post-Brexit chemicals regime risks UK becoming ‘dumping ground’ for dangerous substances, campaigners warn

A plan by Boris Johnson’s government to change the regulation of chemicals after Brexit risks making the UK a “dumping ground” for harmful substances, experts and campaigners have warned.

Environmentalists responded with alarm to the government’s policy paper setting out how the UK’s new, post-Brexit chemical safety regime will diverge from the EU’s REACH system.

It showed that of ten potentially hazardous chemicals added to Brussels’ list of “substances of very high concern” this year, only four would be added to the UK’s list.

Zoe Avison, policy analyst at the Green Alliance campaign group, warned that the government’s proposals “will almost certainly see hazardous substances falling through the cracks”.

On Thursday, the Green Alliance wrote to MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee urging them to “urgently investigate” the government’s plan.

Campaigners told The Independent in March about the risk the UK could be a “dumping ground” for dangerous substances after Mr Johnson ditched Theresa May’s plan for “associate membership” of EU agencies, including the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and its database known as REACH.

Thalie Martini, chief executive of Breast Cancer UK, said the published proposals amounted to a “major weakening” of safety regulation – warning that the British public would be less well-protected from chemicals linked to breast cancer than before Brexit.

She said that the proposed system “lacks public scrutiny, undermines the consumer’s right to know and could lead to years of regulatory delays that result in the UK becoming a dumping ground for hazardous chemicals”.

Experts are worried that the government proposals will see a new UK regulator relying on voluntary data submitted by chemical companies to assess the level of risk, and will be slower to take action against them.

Dr Michael Warhurst, executive director of CHEM Trust, said the government was putting in “unnecessary layers of information requirements” from firms – warning that it will lead to “regulatory inaction on a range of harmful substances”.

The expert added: “This will open the door to consumers and the environment having greater exposure to harmful chemicals than in the EU, and a second-rate system for regulating chemicals post-Brexit.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) denied the new regime could put consumers or the environment at risk.

They said: “We are committed to maintaining an effective regulatory system for the management and control of chemicals, which safeguards human health and the environment and can respond to emerging risks.”

The spokesperson added: “We have published our interim approach to the Candidate List in UK REACH. This approach aims to ensure we have a single, coherent approach to nominating substances for the Candidate List in UK REACH.”

In October, the government bowed to pressure to introduce tougher action against water companies dumping untreated sewage following outrage over plans to weaken legislation aimed at protecting Britain’s rivers and seas.

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