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Are imported products safe?

National EU authorities checked hazardous chemicals in imported products and found that almost one in four products were not allowed into the European market. Where does this leave the European consumer?

A lot is done to ensure that products made in Europe are safe to use, but what about products imported from other parts of the world? Can we be sure they are safe? National enforcement authorities and customs inspectors in 16 EU Member States checked almost 1 400 different products before they entered the European market as part of a pilot enforcement project coordinated by ECHA’s Enforcement Forum.

More than 300 (23 %) of the checked products violated some of the rules of EU chemicals law on restricting the use of chemicals and correctly labelling products with hazard information.

1 225 checks were done to see if imported products contained restricted substances, such as cadmium, lead and nickel. 17 % of the checked products contained a higher amount of those substances than allowed. Most of the non-compliant products (74 %) came from China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, North Macedonia and Madagascar. Buying and using these kinds of products could potentially put the buyer’s health at risk.  

167 products were also checked to see if they were following the rules of classification, labelling and packaging. The checks showed that the labels were incorrect for 64 % of the products, mostly as they were not in the required national language. 

Advice to consumers

We asked the chair of this project’s working group, Maria Orphanou, what this means for European consumers.

Consumers can actually now feel safer because authorities are carrying out more checks of imported products. They are also prohibiting transport of non-compliant goods into the European Single Market. But to be on the safe side, consumers should only buy products from known and trustworthy suppliers,” says Ms Orphanou.

If consumers want to know more, they have the right to ask retailers for more information about the hazardous chemicals that are used in the products they buy. For household chemicals, consumers should make sure that the products they buy have the correct labelling in their own language and they should take the time to read it”, Maria Orphanou continues. 

There are also free-of-charge smartphone apps, such as Scan4Chem, that checks substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in products such as clothing, sports equipment and toys. If the product information is not readily available in the app, consumers can scan the product’s barcode and send a request for information from the producer or retailer about the presence of SVHCs in that product above a 0.1 % threshold.

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