Scientific advice rejected to dodge cancer warning after “unprecedented” lobbying

Cancer warnings will likely be kept off packets of spray-on sunscreen, cosmetics and spray paints containing titanium dioxide, against official scientific advice and rewarding “unprecedented” industry lobbying.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) advised the European Commission that all products with the substance should carry a warning because it is a suspected carcinogen when inhaled. Its opinion is backed by the WHO and a US agency.

But the Commission wants to exempt products containing the substance in liquid form, going against agency advice. This is the first time the Commission has ever rejected an ECHA opinion since the agency was formed in 2008. The Commission accepts products with the substance in powder form should carry the warning “suspected carcinogen”, but wants to water down the text to “warning, droplets may be formed when sprayed” for liquid products.

If approved, it would be a flat rejection of the science for commercial reasons and set a dangerous precedent, according to a letter signed by 28 NGOs. The relevant EU labelling law says workers and consumers should be alerted to chemical hazards on a purely scientific basis, without any political considerations. The Commission advanced political considerations in papers from April, June and September 2018.

The Commission proposal will be voted on by government officials meeting in Brussels on 14 and 15 February. Its members are said to have softened their position under lobby pressure. The decision will be adopted by the Commission shortly after the vote.

Trade group TDMA fears a consumer backlash if the ECHA advice is followed, according to its website. It ran an “unprecedented” €14 million lobbying campaign, despite not being registered on the Transparency Register. Officials met with up to 24 lobbyists at a time and felt “ordered around”, according to a diplomat. TDMA spent up to €499,000 retaining Brussels’ biggest spin firm, Fleishman Hillard. Fleishman lists TDMA among its very highest value clients. TDMA gained undue access, according to NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.

EEB chemicals policy manager Tatiana Santos said: “It’s obvious that spray paint, hair colouring and sunscreen can end up being inhaled. Yet the Commission wants to dodge this reality.” She said:

“Hiding health warnings to maintain sales of a toxic product is wrong.”

Santos points the finger at the lobbying efforts of major industry groups:

“We are seeing this because industry has spent millions on spin doctors and expensive lawyers when it should have spent that money making its products safer.”

TDMA’s strapline is “for a brighter future”. Its members are titanium dioxide producers including: Cinkarna Celjeof Slovenia; Cristal, the world’s second biggest producer of titanium dioxide, with a presence in UK, France, and Belgium; Evonik, a German chemicals company declaring annual EU lobby spend of €1,750,000 – €1,999,999; Venator, a global company based in the US; and others from Poland and the Czech Republic.

 

This story also appeared in the Daily Mail

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