In terms of deliberate protection and improvement of human health via environmental policies, the development at the EU level has been relatively recent. With respect to chemicals, specific EU regulation in the 1960s and 1970s was initiated primarily to facilitate trade in the common market by ‘harmonising’ different national regulations. Moreover, protection of public and workers’ health was mostly limited to dealing with ‘acute’ exposures to hazardous chemicals. However, the rise of concern about environmental health issues in the late 1970s and early 1980s provoked a number of changes, from adjustments to existing legislation, to the introduction of new laws.
The EU now has legislation designed to protect human health from chemicals risk factors in a number of areas including: air, soil, water; pesticides, toys, cosmetics, paints, electric and electronic products, food, and ‘industrial’ chemicals. The newest European chemicals legislation, known as REACH, has been one of the largest pieces of legislation to pass through the European institutions, and constitutes a reform of over 40 individual laws. Arguably, REACH sets a new global standard for the integrated management of chemicals, particularly in attempting to address long-term chronic exposures and its implications for public health. The Chemicals Health Monitor therefore is concentrating our policy monitoring on REACH, and providing an overview of the EU funded Research Projects pertaining to chemicals and health.