Consumer testing campaign: know what you buy

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With warmer days many of us wish to engage in activities such as swimming, gardening, or DIY. This is why analyses of items belonging to these consumer segments have been carried out within the framework of the LIFE AskREACH project.

Substance screening was carried out on beach/swimming, gardening, and DIY items by European partners of the AskREACH project. The findings revealed that while the majority (91%) of the items are safe, some still contain chemicals that are harmful to people and/or the environment. Some of the items analysed are no longer legally permitted for sale in Europe.

Test results

In total, 106 items from 13 European countries were sent for testing at an independent and accredited laboratory. The tests focused on SVHCs, which are of the greatest concern on the European market. They can have harmful effects on human health and the environment because they may fall into one or more of the following categories:

- CMRs: carcinogenic (a substance that induces or contributes to the development of cancer), mutagenic (can cause genetic damage or induce cell mutations, with potential hereditary effects), reprotoxic (can impair fertility or adversely affect a child's development)
- PBTs: substances that are persistent (weakly degradable) in the environment or in organisms, are bioaccumulative, and toxic
- vPvB: very persistent and very bioaccumulative substances
- substances eliciting a level of concern equivalent to that of the above substances, such as endocrine disruptors

Of the 106 items tested, 10 contained SVHCs at a concentration exceeding 0.1%, meaning that consumers need to be informed of this upon request. Almost a third contained traces of SVHCs below the 0.1% threshold. Of these, seven items also contained plasticisers, which have been prohibited in consumer products since July 2020 because of their harmful effects on the hormonal system. Even at extremely low levels, these molecules can have toxic effects on reproduction. Furthermore, two of the products (gardening gloves and a children's painting apron) contained high concentrations of plasticisers—up to 23% of the weight of some parts of the article. The distributor withdrew the children's painting apron from the market as a result of our analyses.
As part of this analysis campaign, 25 items added by companies into the AskREACH database were also analysed in order to determine the accuracy of the information provided to consumers. Only one of these items contained an SVHC at over 0.1% w/w. The company in question has already been instructed to correct the information provided.

Life AskReach is here to help

Compared to our previous rounds of testing, manufacturers and retailers appear increasingly aware of SVHCs in their products, but not all of them responded to our requests for information on SVHCs.
Some SVHCs are actually permitted in consumer products but their presence must be communicated throughout the supply chain and, upon request, to consumers. This means that consumers can request information on the presence of SVHCs in any item from any company selling or reselling that item. If an SVHC is present at a concentration exceeding 0.1%, the retailer, importer, and manufacturer are legally obliged to inform the consumer of this within 45 days of the consumer's request.
By exercising this “right to know”, consumers can better prevent the inadvertent introduction of toxic chemicals into their homes and therefore adjust their everyday behaviour accordingly.
Since September 2017, the EU-funded “LIFE AskREACH” project, together with Ineris, the project's French partner, have been raising awareness of these issues among companies and consumers. The Scan4Chem mobile app was developed in this context. It allows users to scan the barcode of a product and receive information on SVHCs from a European database. If the requested information has not yet been uploaded to our database by the relevant companies, an automatically generated request can be sent to the retailer and/or manufacturer.
One of the other objectives of the project is to help companies better understand SVHC-related issues throughout the supply chain so they can better meet the transparency requirements for these substances.
The Scan4chem app allows consumers to scan everyday items and find out if they contain SVHCs. This responds not only to consumers' increasing demand for transparency but also benefits the entire value chain by prompting manufacturers to make replacements and consider alternatives when selecting products and suppliers.