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Fears over the influence of chemicals industry on new rules for cancer linked chemicals

The EU has come under criticism for hiring an industry consultancy to develop recommendations and exemptions for the cancer linked chemical, PFOA.

The company BiPRO was subcontracted for this technical work despite having a client list which includes many major chemical companies who make or use the substance PFOA.

The chemical, which is used in the production of Teflon, accumulates in the human body and has been linked to thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy induced hypertension.

A letter, co-signed by 19 health and environmental NGOs, has been sent to the European Commission expressing concern about the work of BiPRO which they say is a ‘conflict of interest’ and it has led to ‘weak’ regulation.

In the letter they state: 

“This conflict of interest appears to have resulted in proposals for a large number of unjustified exemptions at the behest of industry. Most of these exemptions should not be supported due to the lack of justification and/or the presence of alternatives. To make matters worse, the industry consultancy hired by the EU has also made exemption proposals that are even weaker the EU PFOA regulation.”

The recommendations made by the company are being submitted as part of a listing for the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty for the regulation of polluting chemicals. As part of the treaty the EU or other members can ‘list’ chemicals which need to be regulated and when it is agreed all the parties apply the regulation.

The recommendations are due to be presented to an upcoming meeting on of the expert committee of the Stockholm Convention on 17-20 October.

One of the signatories of the letter to the Commission Tatiana Santos, Senior Policy Officer for Chemicals and Nanotechnology at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said: 

“It is not appropriate for the EU to select an industry consultancy with clients who make or use fluorinated chemicals to propose global exemptions for continued use of a fluorinated chemical such as PFOA.

“We expect the EU to demonstrate leadership in the Stockholm Convention process and that means prioritizing human health and the environment, not industry sales and profit.”

NGOs call on the EU to exert leadership in the Stockholm Convention PFOA listing process. This means acting on three points:

  1. Prioritize protection of human health and the environment by supporting a recommendation to list PFOA in Annex A of the treaty and minimize the number of exemptions. Few of the proposed exemptions can be justified based on Convention objectives;
  2. Rectify conflict of interest issues by assuming full responsibility for the PFOA nomination and not utilize BiPRO any further for matters related to fluorinated compounds or other substances that create a real or perceived conflict of interest;
  3. Utilize the Stockholm Convention process to strengthen the EU’s weak PFOA regulation, rather than seeking to globalize it.