Investigation finds supermarkets in breach of REACH rules governing toxic chemicals

Some of Europe’s biggest supermarkets, such as Carrefour and Tesco, are failing to protecting citizens from harmful chemicals in everyday products, claimed a report by the European Environmental Bureau.

They are breaching the EU’s flagship regulation on chemicals, while many products such as school supplies, sports accessories and sex toys are shown to contain high toxic concentrations of ‘substances of very high concern’, claimed the report.

REACH, which stands for Registration Evaluation Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals, is an EU wide legislation that is meant to ensure the phase out of potentially damaging chemicals. It also sets out transparency requirements giving shoppers the right to know whether a potentially dangerous chemical is in a product before they buy.

Article 33.2 of REACH states that consumers should at least be told the name of the listed substance with information on how to safely use the product if they request it.

However, half of the 158 information requests sent to European retailers in 2010 received no response, according to the EEB research.

The environmental group, which set out to test the willingness of retailers to provide information, also said that only 22% of the requests actually received satisfactory answers.

“The legal department of Media Markt, electronics providers with over 800 shops across Europe, simply declared that they were of the opinion that they did not have to provide such information”, claimed the EEB in in its report. “Bart Smits (Netherlands) refused to provide information to “third parties”, clearly breaching the “right to know”.

C&A Belgium merely replied to one request via email with “?”.”

“All citizens ought to be given full information about what properties of chemicals are in the products they buy. A parent, for instance, should automatically be informed whether a pencil case for their child contains phthalates which can impair sexual development,” said Christian Schaible, EEB Chemicals Policy Officer.

“Unfortunately, EU law forces consumers to repeatedly ask about chemicals in stores, and suppliers are only obliged to give information under specific conditions. However, we have shown that not even this legal right is guaranteed in practice”, continued Schaible.

Widespread contamination

High concentrations of phthalates (used to make plastic more flexible) were found in many of the 93 products which underwent chemical analysis by the EEB’s “independent laboratory”.

A cosmetic bag from Carrefour Belgium was found to contain three listed phthalates, with a concentration of a chemical shown to “have feminising effects and alter brain development of infants”, added the EEB.

Four out of the five sex toys tested were also shown to have very high concentrations of phthalates.

“Retailers still have time to phase out these chemicals,” said the EEB. “But the REACH process is taking too much time.”