Reducing hazardous substances in the Baltic Sea region

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Image: LIFE10 INF/EE/000108 All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Chemicals are found in a wide variety of everyday products, from personal care and household cleaning items to children’s toys and furniture. Some do not degrade easily in the environment and can be harmful for human health and nature.

EU legislation on chemicals, such as REACH, the CLP Regulation, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive and the Toy Safety Directive, is aimed at ensuring a high level of protection from these hazardous substances.

The NonHazCity project is trying to prevent hazardous substances ending up in the sewer and, ultimately, the Baltic Sea, already heavily polluted by chemicals. Funded by the EU’s Interreg instrument which supports cooperation across borders, the project wants to reduce consumption of hazardous substances by directly targeting small-scale emitters (municipalities, small- and medium-sized enterprises and private households) in urban areas.

The first phase, NonHazCity 1, was led by Stockholm municipality and ran from March 2016 to February this year. The next stage, NonHazCity 2, began in August and will continue until January 2021, headed by Riga City Council.

It is building on work by a LIFE project, BaltInfoHaz, which sought to strengthen consumer demand in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for products free of hazardous substances and so reduce their impact on health and the environment.

LIFE interviewed NonHazCity 1 manager Arne Jamtrot from the City of Stockholm to find out more about the projects and the city’s work on chemicals.

How are you applying EU chemicals legislation in Stockholm?

We inspect retailers of articles and chemical products to make sure they comply with the relevant legislation. Under REACH, consumers have the right to know whether the articles they buy contain any chemicals known as substances of very high concern. We try to implement this right by requiring information from our suppliers about these chemicals.

What has the NonHazCity project done so far?

We started off with a screening campaign in the participating cities to identify the hazardous substances present in their aquatic environments. This confirmed local small-scale sources are important for addressing the problem. The municipalities decided which local issues, substances and sources to focus on, both for their own activities and for consumers and local enterprises. These groups were then targeted by activities such as training in green public procurement, public awareness campaigns and training for small industries. Based on their experiences, each municipality produced a chemicals action plan to be used in future work in this area.

Have you managed to reduce some hazardous substances already?

Several municipalities identified pre-schools as a priority, since children are especially vulnerable to hazardous substances. In Stockholm, this is an area we’ve been addressing for some years already, so we decided to follow up on the effects of our previous efforts.

Part of our work with ‘chemicals-smart’ pre-schools was to remove old materials suspected to contain hazardous substances (e.g. plasticisers and flame retardants). We analysed the materials taken out and compared them with the new materials bought from our suppliers. The results show we’ve removed more than 2 tonnes of phthalates and 200 kg of flame retardants, just by changing old mattresses and a few toys.

We also analysed concentrations of hazardous substances in dust from the same pre-schools and compared them with the amounts measured ahead of the campaign. This showed that concentrations of several priority substances had decreased.

How has the LIFE project BaltInfoHaz fed into NonHazCity?

BaltInfoHaz’s logo, corporate design and slogan ‘think before you buy’ were so valuable we adopted them and widened their use to countries that didn’t participate in the LIFE project – Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, Belarus and Russia.

We’ve also been able to make use of BaltInfoHaz’s publications and data gathered from product and environmental tests, as well as building on the project’s experiences with awareness-raising among the public when planning our campaigns. (BaltInfoHaz’s awareness-raising campaign on hazardous substances reached around 1 million people in total.)

The LIFE project’s approach of working with hairdressers and car repair shops has been taken up by NonHazCity and developed further. We carried out substance screening on their chemicals products and the articles used. At hairdressers and car repair shops we did substance screening by inventories of used chemicals products and articles, also providing them with advice and offering training courses.

How important is funding from EU programmes such as LIFE and Interreg for your work?

In most partner municipalities, it gave them the possibility to start serious, goal-oriented work on hazardous substances, a complex issue that requires a lot of competence to grasp. Not much has been done previously in terms of determining the measures that need to be taken on chemicals and producing standardised action plans. Long-term project funding has made it possible to develop the experience needed for this.

What’s next in NonHazCity?

The chemicals action plans developed during phase one will be implemented in the partner cities. We’ll also work on tackling the plastic problem. Reducing unnecessary use of plastic will help address other issues as well, like littering and exposure to chemicals.

Arne Jamtrot will be speaking at the LIFE Platform meeting on Chemicals & Indicator Workshop taking place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 27-28 November.

LIFE Platform meeting on Chemicals & Indicator Workshop

Image: LIFE10 INF/EE/000108 All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

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