The UK faces the threat of “uncontrolled chemicals” that could harm people and the environment, according to experts.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has urged the creation of a Chemicals Agency to oversee the regulation of chemicals in the UK. They highlighted that the rise of pollutants known as ‘forever chemicals’ exemplifies regulatory gaps.

After more than four years of waiting for clarity on chemical regulation post-Brexit, the RSC decided to make a public appeal.

Before 2020, the UK collaborated with the EU on chemical research, monitoring, and regulation. Post-Brexit, the UK assumed sole responsibility for chemical regulation, but delays in establishing a new system have occurred.

“The current regulatory regime for chemicals in the UK is not fit-for-purpose, failing to support innovation or to adequately protect our waterways, soil, air and built environment,” said Professor Gillian Reid, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Last month, the government announced a consultation on a new chemicals registration process, intended to track chemicals imported into the country. This process was supposed to be implemented when the UK left the EU in 2020. The RSC stated that the delay impacts numerous industries, including cosmetics, food manufacturing, and agriculture.

Stephanie Metzger, policy advisor at the RSC and co-author of the report, said: “Businesses are in this ‘limbo’ phase. This makes it really difficult for them to plan financially what they are going to invest in, and decide what research they might want to do.”

The Chemical Industries Association (CIA), representing businesses working with chemicals, agreed on the need for clarity but argued that calling for a Chemicals Agency was premature and would only delay government processes further.

The Royal Society of Chemistry believes a centralised Chemicals Agency would coordinate scientific studies more effectively. Currently, research on different chemicals is spread across more than five government agencies, leading to “fragmentation, duplication of efforts, and a lack of clarity,” according to Professor Reid.

“In addition, the civil service is under-resourced and struggling to recruit and train skilled staff, making it difficult for government to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in chemicals and testing,” she said.

Recent evidence has shown potentially toxic chemicals like PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) accumulating in UK soil and waterways. These ‘forever chemicals’ have been linked to serious health issues, including cancer and fertility problems.

Last week, University of Cardiff researchers found traces of a forever chemical not manufactured in the UK in an otter population in northeast England. Dr. Elizabeth Chadwick from Cardiff University, co-author of the research paper, stated that banning forever chemicals is challenging due to their widespread use and the existence of over 15,000 types.

“I think we need to do some work to really understand how the different groups of PFAS may have slightly different toxic effects, to help inform the regulation,” she said.

“Which ones do we really need to focus on first?”

Last year, the UK government announced plans to develop a strategy for PFAS, but no paper has been published yet. The RSC’s call for a Chemicals Agency aims to address these regulatory challenges and ensure better management of chemical risks in the UK.



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