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This week, the European Union will debate new rules on chemicals, specifically polymers. Plastic is made of synthetic polymers, which simply means a long, repeating chain of molecules, and the new proposed safety regulations would only apply to about 6% of them, The Guardian reports. Plenty of plastics with known health harms aren’t included in the new rules, including:
polystyrenes, which have been linked to cancer
polyacrylamides, which can degrade into a neurotoxin
polyesters used in textiles and polyolefins, which degrade into microplastics
Right now, the new rules are still being drafted, so the final regulations could require more of the approximately 200,000 polymers to face a higher level of scrutiny.
Why This Matters: The EU’s chemical regulatory body has the potential to put checks on a wide range of plastic products that people use in their everyday lives, from paints to detergents. Right now, the companies who make plastics are exempt from regulations and provide little data on the health and environmental risks of the 60 million tons of plastic produced in Europe per year. The EU has already reported that some plastics are harmful without regulation. Now, they have an opportunity to approach plastics more broadly as dangerous until proven safe, not the other way around. In other words: prioritizing the health of Europeans, not companies.
Coalition of Scientists Speaks Up: A group of 19 scientists from across Europe and North America sent the EU Commission a strongly worded statement expressing their concerns about the regulations as they are currently drafted. Their proposal: create a framework for regulating all polymers and prioritize “ those manufactured in highest volumes and thus likely to result in the highest exposures.” The scope of plastic pollution has moved far beyond an individual piece of plastic that can be picked up from a beach and into the much harder to clean microplastic.
As Dolores Romano, chemicals policy acting manager at the European Environmental Bureau, told The Guardian: “Polymer pollution is out of control. We are exposed to it daily, as they are used in plastic, textiles, cleaning products and even cosmetics. We used to think of plastic pollution as bulky junk massing in the environment. Now we know that it breaks up into a vast cloud of micro- and nanoplastics contaminating the land, water and air, as well as showing up in our bodies. We know already that dozens of polymers are toxic, so officials must be allowed to check the safety of the rest.”
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