REACHing the People: Europe Assesses Public Understanding of Chemicals

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Europe's REACH Regulation modernizes governmental approach to controlling the chemicals we are exposed to in our everyday lives. Industry has been involved in a massive effort to re-review all available data on the chemicals in their products, as required by the Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of CHemicals approach implemented by REACH. The newest phase of this game-changing social experiment reaches out to the general public. Now that industry knows what it's got, what do the people know?One part of the REACH regulation required the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to undertake a survey to assess current understanding of chemical labels by the general public, and to develop ways to improve that communication so that consumers can handle chemicals safely.

The Eurobarometer Survey asked 26,574 people in 27 EU countries about their understanding of chemicals. Significantly, respondents associate chemical products more with terms such as 'dangerous' or 'harmful to the environment', rather than 'useful' or 'innovative'. Another strange surprise: 66% of people claim they read the instructions on chemical products before use, but only 7% said they actually follow those instructions fully.

This point provides important feedback. For example, some years ago the EU started requiring laundry detergent manufacturers to get very specific about how much soap a load of laundry needs. If people are overdosing their laundry, that is a lot of chemicals going into the environment -- without even cleaning the laundry better. Even if all European laundry surfactants are required to be biodegradable by law, that is too many chemicals going to waste.

The survey also presents an interesting demographic comparison. For example, 85% of Cypriots associate chemicals with the term 'dangerous', while the percentage of Finns that consider chemicals 'dangerous' is just over half.

More on REACH and Chemicals in Europe:
Race to REACH: Chemicals Illegal in Europe if Not Registered by 1 December
EU Prioritizes First Set of Chemicals for Ban Under Strict New REACH Law
European Parliament adopts REACH - Chemicals Management By The Precautionary Principle
No Data, No Market: the EU Gets Serious About Chemicals
REACH for Greener Chemistry

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