Synthetic chemicals play a major role in modern society, contributing to our well-being and comfort and providing a number of economic benefits. However, many chemicals also pose risks to human health and the environment. While regulatory frameworks are in place for managing and controlling unacceptable risks from chemicals – notably the REACH Regulation (EC 1907/2006) on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances, much remains to be done to fully implement these frameworks. Moreover, additional regulations may be needed to address emerging risks due to new technological developments such as nanomaterials or new scientific information, e.g., on endocrine disruption or combination effects.

Over the years, Milieu has developed considerable expertise in the complex field of chemicals’ regulation. Because this requires scientific, as well as legal and policy know-how, our work in this field is carried out in close consultation with our associated senior scientists and technical experts. Our experience ranges from specialised legal and policy advice for the European Commission and other international institutions to technical assistance to governments of developing countries and countries in economic transition for establishing effective chemicals’ regulatory systems.

Some examples of Milieu’s work in this field are:

The 7th Environment Action Programme, adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, mandates the European Commission, inter alia, to develop by 2018 “a Union strategy for a non-toxic environment that is conducive to innovation and the development of sustainable substitutes including non-chemical solutions”.

The chemicals-related objectives of the 7th EAP are not isolated but are embedded in global policy initiatives, first and foremost the goal to achieve the safe management of chemicals throughout their life-cycle.

Milieu led a consortium of three other organisations to provide expert support for the Commission’s task of developing a strategy. Specifically, the consortium pulled together reports providing the knowledge base and policy analysis for the strategy in seven specified areas:

  • Substitution, including grouping of chemicals and measures to support substitution
  • Chemicals in products (articles) and non-toxic material cycles
  • Improved protection of children and vulnerable groups from harmful chemicals’ exposure
  • Very persistent chemicals
  • Policy means, innovation and competitiveness
  • Research and development of new, non-toxic substances
  • Joint early warning systems for approaching chemical threats to health and environment

On the basis of the seven sub-studies, Milieu prepared a Final Report providing an overview and analysis of the current state of play, as well as opportunities for improvement with the aim of reducing EU citizens’ exposure to harmful chemicals. It contains some building blocks of a future non-toxic environment strategy, such as improving the knowledge on chemicals, support substitution of toxic chemicals with non or less harmful chemicals, address persistent chemicals, and establish a hierarchy for hazardous substances (avoidance, minimisation, strict controls, disposal/destruction).

The Final Report, the seven sub-study reports and the workshop report can be found on the Commission’s website.

The EU’s 2006 REACH Regulation is the most comprehensive law in the world covering chemicals on the market, and the most protective of human health and the environment. However, before its adoption, it was criticised heavily for reportedly duplicating other EU chemicals-related requirements.

To find out whether this criticism was true, the European Union contracted Milieu to compare the REACH requirements to more than 150 other EU acts. Milieu’s lawyers and technical specialists looked closely at each law’s aim and scope, definitions and exemptions, risk assessment methods and risk management measures from a legal, as well as practical, point of view.

The study found 38 instances of overlaps, gaps and synergies, each with recommendations for actions to avoid double regulation and to address the gaps identified.  The recommendations ranged from amendments to legislation to non-legislative options such as guidance documents. The study’s recommendations fed into the Commission’s 2013 report on REACH (COM(2013) 49 final) and the accompanying staff working document (SWD(2013) 25 final).

Milieu’s study is available on the Commission’s website.

We all have PFAS – short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in our bodies. Known as the “forever chemicals”, PFASs are found in everyday consumer products and they contaminate the drinking water of millions of people in Europe. PFAS are highly persistent in the environment and many are linked to health problems such as kidney and testicular cancer, liver malfunction, high cholesterol, lower birth weight and size, and decreased immune response to vaccines.

How much is this exposure costing society?

Milieu carried out a study for the Nordic Council aiming to answer this question. The study estimates annual health-related costs at € 2.8 – 4.6 billion just for the Nordic countries and € 52 – 84 billion for all EEA countries. To estimate environment-related costs, it used actual expenditures on upgrading drinking water treatment and cleaning up soil contaminated with PFAS. If all polluted areas were to be treated similarly, it estimated the cost would be between €46 million and €11 billion for the Nordic countries, and between € 17 and 171 billion for all of the EEA.

The study notes that the uncertainties underlying the estimates are quite large. However, on the basis of the literature, it concludes that the lower bound estimates are likely to be exceeded. The study emphasises that it is society at large, i.e., taxpayers, who are paying the costs of this contamination.

The study is available on the website of the Nordic Council.