25-26 March international conference about endocrine disrupting chemicals and other hazardous substances in consumer products took place in Vilnius. More than 70 experts from 10 countries talked about newest researches, experiments, findings and practices. The discussion about valid but little capable consumer’s right to know what substances of concern for human health are used in products received huge attention.
In the conference the representative of European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), Telmo Vieira Prazares presented consumers’ right to know and at the same time producers’, supplier’s and distributor’s obligation to inform if the product contains substances of a very high concern (SVHC). Currently there are 151 substances on the list which is updated twice a year. This right was set by REACH regulation (article 33) in 2007. According to the legislation supervisory practitioner, every supply chain participant is obliged when asked by consumer not only to inform if the product contains SVHC but also to provide guidance on how to use the product safely. “The law is not followed when producer declaration using specific terminology, abbreviations or foreign language is only forwarded to a consumer. It is a must to comment producer’s answer using understandable-for-everyone language”- said the expert. REACH regulation says that this explanation must reach consumer in less than 45 days. Almost all attendees agreed that very rare consumer is willing to wait longer than a month, until the answer comes.
Nevertheless, NGO representatives who attended the event believe that in many European countries poor consumer awareness about their rights remains the major problem. “In our country there are very little people who know about the existence of such right”, – said Jana Simanovska from Latvia. Colleagues from Estonia and Lithuania mentioned the same problem. “The form of query is not very important by itself – it could be written or spoken – as you wish. Most importantly, consumers do not know about their right to ask and producers – about their obligation to answer. I have tried to ask one shop assistant in a huge supermarket and I received nothing except misunderstanding.” – commented Laura Stančė, an expert of Baltic Environmental Forum Lithuania. According to experts, only after consumers start asking suppliers about product composition actively, they will understand the need to react adequately. “
“Now the prevailing business attitude is that nobody cares about hazardous substances and they don’t care also. Majority of businessmen is not familiar with their obligation,” – said the chemical expert Justė Buzelytė. NGOs and state institutions agreed unanimously that considerable efforts are needed in order to inform both consumers and producers about these rights. Only by this mean significant changes are possible.
In the conference some electronic tools helping consumers to use their right were introduced. “The process of filling in query is quite problematic and time consuming. Furthermore, consumer is not willing to wait a month until he knows weather chosen wallpaper cause harm for his health or not. He needs information at the moment of purchase, ” – said Sarah Häuser, a representative of non-governmental organization “Friends of the Earth” in Germany. The speaker presented mobile application “ToxFox” which is active in Germany and German- speaking countries and has huge popularity. After scanning cosmetics barcode the program provides information about endocrine disrupting chemicals used in product. It is also possible with only one click of a button to send the request for a producer to remove these substances from the composition of product. “This right had been used for 70,000 times. We received complaints from major cosmetics producers about huge amount of consumer letters they received, ” – Sarah Häuser commented application success. From conference participants the Baltic and Scandinavian countries expressed a strong interest in this tool and promised to find out the potential to introduce similar system in their countries. Conference organizer, Baltic Environmental Forum, said: “While checking technical and financial possibilities to implement such project in other countries, we invite consumers to use their right and ask producers and suppliers about hazardous chemicals in products. When we ask more, it is more likely that we receive the answer. More information for a consumer is provided on our website.
In the conference participants were also made acquainted with more details about endocrine disrupting chemicals, their regulation, existing norms and its use in toys and cosmetics. BEF group presented testing results of the campaign “Think before you buy“ in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Several other experiments were mentioned. Presentations about ecolabels and misleading information gained huge attention. In the event potential measures encouraging consumers to choose products without hazardous chemicals were also discussed.