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Chemicals in consumer goods escaping safety checks, study says

[LONDON] European consumers could be at risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals in products like clothes and cosmetics because safety rules aren't being properly enforced, according to a German environmental lobby.

Potentially harmful chemicals including dibutyl phthalate found in toys and methyl acetate used in footwear are widely sold to manufacturers of household goods without having been properly vetted by the European watchdog, BUND said in a study published Tuesday.

"Chemical companies have been breaking the law for years and getting away with it," Manuel Fernandez, a chemicals policy officer at BUND, said in a statement. "We don't know if products on sale today are safe. What we do know is the very foundation of European chemical safety rules are being ignored."

Chemicals in consumer items could cause hormonal cancers, brain disorders and other severe impacts, according to Fernandez. The allegations come at a time of heightened consumer concern about the danger of some chemicals. Germany's Bayer AG has been ordered to pay more than US$2 billion in damages to a California couple that claimed they got cancer as a result of using its Roundup weedkiller. The company is under pressure to settle thousands of similar lawsuits.

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The report is based on information dating back to 2014 that the organization obtained using freedom of information requests from the European Chemicals Agency, the region's regulator. It named some top global chemical makers as among those failing to provide enough safety data. An industry lobby acknowledged shortfalls in some studies.

The European chemical industry underwent a regulatory overhaul in 2008 when the region introduced new safety rules under a framework called REACH. While companies initially scrambled to register and test chemicals, BUND said some haven't completed safety reports a decade after the system was introduced. It named BASF SE, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and Ineos among those.

The European Chemicals Agency said in an emailed statement it's planning to increase the number of compliance checks to address the shortfall in safety data, adding that most companies provide the missing information upon request.

The quality of data in some REACH dossiers needs to be "seriously" reviewed, industry lobby group, the European Chemical Industry Council, said by email. Ineos is working with the European trade association to address issues on REACH, the company said by email. Representatives of BASF and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. had no immediate comment.