A wide variety of different chemicals are used in consumer products in order to achieve specific properties, functionality and quality. These chemicals include brominated flame retardants used in electronics and furniture upholstery, fluorinated compounds used in water- and dirt-repellent coatings of textiles (e.g. outdoor clothing), and phthalates used in soft PVC plastic products (e.g. toys).
Harmful compounds are spread to the environment during the manufacture, use and disposal of articles. Many of these chemicals have been found to be persistent and toxic in the environment, accumulating in organisms and migrating long distances from their original emission source. International trade also contributes to the movement of harmful chemicals contained by articles from one region to another.
The hazards and risks caused by chemicals in articles are regulated by EU legislation on product safety, waste management, product design and chemicals. The REACH Regulation lays down certain duties to article manufacturers and importers, such as information on substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in articles. There are also other instruments available for the governance of chemicals in articles, including environmental labelling, international co-operation, industry initiatives, the work by non-governmental organisations and other means such as national programmes and registers.
According to the recommendations of the Finnish National Programme on Dangerous Chemicals, more information is needed on chemicals in articles and their control should be improved. Chemicals in articles are also addressed by relevant international organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and conferences such as the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM2).
Published in 2010 by the Finnish Environment Institute, a preliminary report on the control of chemicals aims to review how hazards and risks from chemicals in articles could be controlled throughout article lifecycles. The report also describes the current legislative situation and voluntary management measures for chemicals and their possible needs for further development.