ECHA’s epic fail on chromium VI: maybe an apology isn’t enough

ECHA's epic fail on chromium VI: maybe an apology isn't enough

They call it an epic fail. In social jargon, it has become the way to define big mistakes or, if you will, catastrophic and unintentional slips. In essence: an epic fail buries you when, on the strength of a particular and acknowledged authority in a particular field, you share and spread a blatantly incorrect information. It is surprising, however, that to fall for the epic fail we are about to tell you is ECHA, born European Chemicals Agency. Very serious epic fail, because it has brought up the presence of Chromium VI in leathers used to make shoes and bags. And it did it online, later providing a formal apology that, perhaps, in this case is not enough. Indeed, without “maybe.”

ECHA’s epic fail on chromium VI

ECHA is the European Union agency that promotes “better knowledge and that regulates harmful chemicals.” All with the goal of “protecting workers, consumers and the environment.” Noble and necessary purposes. Difficult to pursue, however, at a time when ECHA itself publishes online and shares on LinkedIn a dangerously misleading infographic about the presence of Chromium VI in hides.

Infographics, later corrected following the vibrant protest of Cotance (the European tanning confederation) and CEC (the continental footwear confederation). Basically, ECHA created an infographic regarding “everyday items that previously,” they say from Helsinki, the agency’s headquarters, “contained carcinogenic chemicals, the use of which is now restricted by the European Commission. You can see it in the box at lower left. In plain view: shoes and handbags, with the caption “Chromium VI found in leather purses / shoes” next to it. Seriously?

Cotance and CEC won’t stand for it

Whether it was an oversight (serious) or simply the result of ignorance (much more serious), Cotance and CEC wrote to ECHA on March 15 denouncing the dangerousness of completely incorrect and misleading information. Done so, the image suggested without leaving any doubt that the leather of shoes and bags contains CRVI and that this presence can cause cancer. Just like that, out of the blue, it made no sense.

They should know, in fact, that the leather industry does not use CRVI (but Chromium III) and that, in the unfortunate event the former is formed for reasons difficult to predict, the self-imposed limit is 3 milligrams per kilogram. Well below the 200 mg/kg threshold calculated in the United States by Cardno ChemRisk for VF Corporation. Above all, the ECHA communication also made a mistake in terms of leading readers to believe that “carcinogen” and “sensitizing” were in overlap.

Perhaps apologies are not enough

On April 9, almost a month later, ECHA’s response arrived. They reviewed and corrected the infographic, as you can see by clicking here. “This infographic,” the letter reads, “incorrectly indicated that Chromium VI had been restricted because of its carcinogenic properties, when in fact its use had been restricted because of its skin-sensitizing properties. The LinkedIn post they removed. The apology (belated, in the age of instant communication) came. Not enough: nowhere did a correction edit appear, editorially necessary to provide clarity and be transparent towards readers. We are probably asking for too much.

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