HRH Prince of Wales enters chemical debate

Posted on 01 March 2004

Prince Charles entered the chemical reform debate with an article linking “an allergy explosion” to chemicals.
Prince Charles has entered the chemical reform debate with an article linking "an allergy explosion" to chemicals.
 
Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian, the Prince of Wales outlines his concern about the impact of "our exposure to a myriad of chemicals from products whose effects we are only just learning about" as well as other problems such as overeating and a lack of exercise.
 
The Prince paints a dramatic picture of the allergy problem facing our society, citing a series of shocking facts including "18 million people in [the UK¨] have an allergy, with a staggering 12 million suffering at any one time" and the increasing "severity and complexity" of allergies: "In the UK, 34% of 13- to 14- year-olds now have active asthma".
 
Prince Charles links these problems to western lifestyle habits including (but not only) exposure to chemicals. He sets out in some detail his concerns about chemicals, such as:

• quoting Sir Tom Blundell, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, who said that "given our understanding of the way chemicals interact with the environment, you could say we are running a gigantic experiment with humans and all other living things as the subject".

• citing "disturbing" evidence such as "sex changes in fish and shellfish, reduced human male fertility, and a rise in cancers linked to chemicals that have found their way into our environment and food chain."

• "The fact that flame retardants, pesticides and dioxins can cross from mother to infant in breast milk is also a cause for concern."

• "There are in excess of 30,000 chemicals in products that we use and dispose of which have never been tested."
 
The Prince does not enter into the political debate about EU legislation, but he does state "collectively we need to create an environment that causes less allergy in the first place" as one of a series of actions that need to be taken to "take allergy more seriously". 
 
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Note on EU chemicals legislation:
REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) is a draft EU law that should lead to the identification and phasing out of the most harmful chemicals. If it becomes law it will be enforced in all countries in the European Union.
 
Under the law, chemical producers would be obliged to send a registration dossier containing safety data to a central chemicals agency for all chemicals produced in quantities above one tonne a year. Less information is required the lower the tonnage of chemicals produced, with very basic information required on 1–10 tonne chemicals. Experts would then evaluate the safety data for higher-volume chemicals and other chemicals of concern.

Chemicals of very high concern would be phased out, and replaced by safer alternatives, unless industry can show ‘adequate control’ of the risk from their use or that their ‘socio-economic’ value outweighed the risks.

Chemicals of 'very high concern' are: carcinogens; mutagens; reproductive toxins; persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic; very persistent and very bio-accumulative; of similar concern, e.g endocrine (hormone) disrupters.
 
However, WWF does not think that the draft law is tough enough. WWF's DetoX campaign is working to ensure that a strengthened REACH is adopted that ensures that chemicals of very high concern are phased out except where use is important to society and there is no safer alternative. 
 
Television sets and computer screens contain several toxic chemicals that can contaminate people in the home.
© WWF / WWF-UK /John Daniels