ResearchImpact of toxic chemicals in everyday life: Government inquiry launched

The Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into the impact of toxic chemicals in everyday life on human health and the environment.
Content Team5 years ago6 min

Chemicals including flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and endocrine disruptors are under the spotlight thanks to a Government inquiry on toxic chemicals’ impact on the everyday lives of humans.

According to a press statement from the Environmental Audit Committee (12/02/2019), these chemicals “…take many years to break down naturally, travel throughout the environment via air, soil and water, accumulate in living organisms and are toxic to both humans and wildlife. Humans are frequently exposed to these chemicals through dust and food, with children amongst the most vulnerable group.”

The inquiry will focus on how toxic chemicals are used in everyday products, such as furniture, food and toys, current government regulation of these substances, and the environmental and human health problems associated with them.

Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, said:

The use and control of toxic chemicals in everyday products is a pressing environmental issue with serious implications for human health.

“Consumer products, including children’s toys, have been found to be contaminated by toxic chemicals that can end up in blood and breast milk. Fire retardants, used in furniture and electronic devices, are a common source of harmful chemicals and are governed by UK legislation that has not been significantly updated in over 30 years.

“The Government has committed to reducing harmful chemical levels in soil and rivers in its 25 Year Environment Plan. This inquiry aims to find out whether ministers are doing enough to protect the environment and ensure the risk to human health from toxic chemicals is minimised. I encourage anyone with insight to engage with our inquiry.”


The Committee has previously considered the future of chemicals regulation after the UK leaves the EU in 2016-17 and again in a one-off evidence session in December 2018. A transcript of this session can be viewed here.

Eurostat, the European Union (EU) statistical office, estimates that the EU produced 81 million tonnes of chemicals hazardous to the environment and 219 million tonnes of chemicals hazardous to human health in 2017.

In the UK, people encounter toxic chemicals through flame retardants used in items such as electronics and furniture. The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 regulate the fire resistance of upholstered products in the UK.

They were introduced following a fire in a Woolworths store in 1979 which killed 10 people but have not been substantially revised in over 30 years. In 2010, the Government’s Red Tape Challenge review of the regulations found that there is an over use of potentially harmful flame-retardant chemicals and the current test – the ‘match test’ – is not effective.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has been reviewing the Regulations running public consultations in 2014 and 2016. Yet almost a decade after the recognition of hazards posed by chemicals used in furniture there has been no significant action from Government.

Have your say

The Committee invites written evidence on some, or all, of the following points by 8 March 2019. Submissions should be made using the Toxic Chemicals inquiry page.

Work in Mind will be keeping a close eye on the Inquiry’s findings with particular focus on chemicals used in furniture and workplace technology and devices.

Find more wellbeing research here

Content Team

Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.

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