UK and US backed chemical lobby to block cancer warning on titanium dioxide

A suspected carcinogen found in spray paints, sun creams and varnishes many not now be required to carry a cautionary health label in the European Union, after lobbying led by the industry and the UK and US governments.

In what campaigners say is an unprecedented and potentially illegal step, the European Commission has dropped a recommendation from its chemicals advisers for mandatory health warnings on all inhalable liquid forms of titanium dioxide (TiO2). The regulation was drafted under what EU officials describe as “very heavy” pressure from industry, supported by the UK and the Trump White House.

Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP, said: “The commission is being weak on the chemical industry and watering down the meaning of REACH [chemicals] legislation, in a pattern that is becoming increasingly concerning. If the risk assessor has given clear warnings, the Commission cannot ignore them. As a parliament, we will absolutely push to make sure this does not happen.”

The European chemicals agency ECHA, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US agencies had all declared titanium dioxide a suspected carcinogen. But the move to include a specific warning sparked a £12m industry-led pressure campaign, and intense lobbying led by the UK, focused on the “socioeconomic consequences” of health regulation. The line echoed that taken by the industry body TDMA.

One EU source, speaking to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, said: “I am ashamed to say I don’t know why we are derogating them. We should not be having a problem with this. I think it is because we received a lot of pressure from industry, particularly on paints. It has been the worst I have seen.” The source added: “Without proper labelling, people may not wear masks when they are using spray paints, and they would be exposed.”

A 13 April 2019 letter to the European Commission from the UN special rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Baskut Tuncak, expressed dismay at the successful lobbying by the industry, supported by the UK and US governments, that blocked a suspected carcinogen warning on TiO2.

The letter noted: “I am deeply concerned that withholding from workers, consumers, and the public at large, information concerning titanium dioxide’s suspected carcinogenic properties would deprive them of essential information that is their human right.

“Not only would access to such information promote principles of democratic societies and just institutions, but the withholding of such information would disrespect our human right to bodily integrity regarding exposure to a suspected carcinogen, and may unjustifiably impact the rights to life and health, among others. For workers in particular, this may be a form of exploitation by deception and violation and abuse of numerous rights encompassed by their right to safe and healthy working conditions.”

The UN special rapporteur’s letter added: “While the concerns raised in this letter are limited to the classification of titanium dioxide, I note a need for EU Member States to better integrate human rights considerations in the management of toxic chemicals and wastes. I would therefore welcome an opportunity to discuss further how the Commission at the regional and international level may further adopt human rights considerations in development of policy frameworks relating to chemicals and wastes.”


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