Deregistered there, permitted here
The EU is widely recognised as the world leader in chemical regulation, employing a systematic approach to reappraising chemicals to ensure public health. For this investigation, CHOICE collaborated with Jo Immig, environmental scientist, author and coordinator of the National Toxics Network, who waded through pages of lists of chemicals to find which are no longer registered in the EU. “The EU information is almost impenetrable,” she says, “as if it were deliberately obscured so ordinary people can’t make sense of it easily.”
The European Union has no list as such of deregistered products, only a “non-inclusion” list, buried in annexes and very difficult to find. For the purposes of this investigation, we focused only on chemicals the EU has not approved for use in biocidal products. This includes pest control products such as insecticides.
Combing through this list, it is not easy to find out whether a chemical has been deregistered due to its potential effects on human health or the environment, as the list also includes chemicals for which no complete dossier is available. This is probably to avoid creating a list of banned products.
Europe leads the way
In 2006 the newly created REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals) legislation created a single system for both new and existing chemicals, replacing 40 pieces of legislation that existed within the EU member countries. This system requires chemical manufacturers and importers to submit to the regulator a registration dossier that includes technical and safety data for each substance, new or existing (unless it’s specifically exempted).
“No data, no market” is a key principle of the European legislation, which means if a manufacturer or importer opts not to provide all the required toxicological assessments for a certain substance, it will no longer be included on the list of registered chemicals.
Australia lags behind
Australia’s approach to chemical regulation is very different from Europe’s and involves a multitude of authorities at various levels of government. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is responsible for regulating pesticides. On its website, APVMA assures consumers that new products are subject to “a rigorous scientific assessment” process before they are registered.
Older, registered chemicals undergo a review, but only if new information suggests there’s a risk. And the review process can drag on for years. For example, oganophosphates diazinon, chlorpyrifos and malathion/maldison have been under review for 10 years or more, despite suspicions about their safety.
Permethrin has just made it onto the list of chemicals for review in household chemicals, which could take years. Meanwhile, veterinary products and insect repellents containing permethrin will no longer be permitted in the EU from October this year. Befenthrin and bioresmethrin were reviewed by APVMA and a decision made to continue to allow their use in Australia. Neither are registered in Europe.
Questioned about the slowness of its review process, APVMA told us it had, as an interim measure, “significantly dealt with concerns” that led to the review of chlorpyrifos and malathion/maldison. In 2000, the concentration and package size of chlorpyrifos-containing products was restricted for household use, and the concerns that led to the review of malathion/maldison (toxicity of its breakdown products) had been “substantially addressed” and the number of registered products reduced. Neither review, however, has been finalised and products containing these chemicals, such as cockroach baits and insect killers, are still on the shelves. Why not err on the safe side and ban these chemicals altogether in products for household use?
Experts CHOICE contacted agree our regulatory approach needs to change. “Current regulatory practices give chemical manufacturers the benefit of the doubt,” says Dr Alison Bleaney, a Tasmanian GP and environmental campaigner. “Substances can be removed from the market only if their health impacts can be demonstrated with scientific certainty. This burden of proof needs to be shifted as products should not be on the market until they can be proven to be safe.”
Dr Liz Hanna from the Public Health Association Australia agrees: “When several high quality methodology studies indicate there are health hazards, and chemicals have consequently been withdrawn in other countries, we can’t understand why Australia is so slow in responding.”