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The invisible threat of chemical pollution

CHEM Trust discuss the Environment Audit Committees new report on ‘Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life’ and how it highlights the urgent action needed to protect our natural environment from chemical pollution.

July 2019

The natural world is under threat from a myriad of issues but one that gets little attention due to its invisibility in the real world, is chemical pollution. This is why we welcome the Environmental Audit Committees new report on ‘Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life’. The report helps shine a light on the risk hazardous man-made chemicals pose to our natural world and humans and calls on UK Government to take urgent action to tackle it.

Man-made chemicals come in all sorts of forms and are found in an array of products such as paint, pesticides, building materials, nail varnish, furniture and so much more. Not all chemicals are hazardous, but some are, and if unchecked, can cause a huge deal of harm to wildlife and humans.

An example of this is Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), a chemical used in sealants and paints that was banned in the 1980’s due its harmful properties. However, PCBs are persistent chemicals, meaning they won’t easily break down and can linger in the environment for decades. In the UK, persistent PCB pollution has contaminated our resident Orca population, resulting in no new births for 25 years in a pod that now numbers just 8 individuals.

It is examples like this that show the risk hazardous man-made chemicals pose. Over 80mt of chemicals hazardous to the environment are produced annually in the EU. Yet many persistent hazardous chemicals found in our everyday products cause similar harm to our wildlife as legacy chemicals like PCBs. Such is the case of many flame retardant chemicals used in furniture and electronics and found at alarming levels in people and wildlife in the UK; or water and grease repellent fluorinated chemicals known as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their extreme persistence.

The EAC call on the UK Government to set the basis of ‘a non-toxic environment in the UK’ that should ‘set out a clear, ambitious vision for the type of chemical environment we hope to live in’ should resonate as a wakeup call to our government to take urgent actions.

The EAC report outlines some excellent recommendations for the Government, many of which were made in the Link response to the inquiry.

  1. Set ambitious targets for the reduction of all man-made hazardous chemicals in the environment in its forthcoming Chemicals Strategy;
  2. Set up a biomonitoring programme to determine chemical contamination of wildlife and people in the UK. This will help to detect emerging chemicals of concern;
  3. Reform the labelling system for chemicals in consumer products to enable consumers to make informed decisions;
  4. Regulate groups of similar chemicals to avoid case of regrettable substitution (see CHEM Trust’s ‘Toxic Soup’ report for examples)
  5. Introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for plastic packaging to phase out the use of hazardous chemicals in plastics.

The EAC report also highlighted the growing concern amongst the public on chemicals in consumer products. In a survey, over 95% of respondents stated they were very concerned about the impact of chemicals on the environment and their health.

We urge the Government to implement the EAC’s recommendations because not doing so is a risk to public and environmental health.

Dr Julie Schneider, Campaigner at CHEM Trust

Follow @JulieSCHEMTrust and @CHEMTrust

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.