Problems of Chemicals

The production of chemicals is an important source of economic benefit, and chemical products provide a multitude of benefits for modern societies. However, many enter the environment and chemical pollution will remain a major environmental issue in the 21st century for many regions of the world. To reduce levels of pollution and ensure safe production, use, and disposal of chemicals, we need significant further scientific, technical and political efforts.

The production volume of chemicals in commerce has grown considerably, and for many regions of the world this growth is expected to continue. Tens of thousands of chemicals exist on the market for which risks to humans and the environment have not yet been evaluated. They are released to the environment as well as to food, drinking water and indoor air from many applications. Examples include flame retardants, surfactants, pharmaceuticals, plastic softeners, pesticides, industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and unintentional by-products.

Of particular concern is the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to which we are exposed to in our daily life, i.e. unintentionally via migration and emissions from household products into air or associated to particles (dust), food, food additives and food related products and packaging, and intentionally via pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCP). A recently published review report on EDCs highlights some associations between exposure to EDCs and health problems with increasing incidence. The report was edited by IPCP co-chair Prof. Åke Bergman, and a working group will continue covering this field within IPCP. The full report “State of the Science of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals” is available at: www.unep.org and a summary is available at: http://unep.org/pdf/9789241505031_eng.pdf.

Another source of concern regarding the immense usage of chemicals is their reported presence in remote areas. Transport of chemicals to the Arctic and Antarctic has been proven where no anthropogenic sources exist. In these remote regions chemicals may accumulate and form reservoirs as degradation is slower in cold and dark environments. An IPCP working group organized a workshop titled “In Search of Planetary Boundaries for Chemical Pollution” in 2012 at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. The global distribution of chemicals makes many chemical emissions an international problem. It is important to support chemical monitoring and exposure assessments in countries that are less equipped. Transfer-of-knowledge projects, such as the one supported by SAICM and organized by IPCP in collaboration with the governments of Armenia, Chile, and Ghana, are one way of supporting the process of accurate chemical risk assessments.

This chemical large-scale problem has stirred a public debate and has been illustrated by several documentaries, e.g.  “The Disappearing Male” (CBC Documentaries), “Underkastelsen”  (by Stefan Jarl (original in Swedish, English title: “Submission: The defense of the unborn”), “Living Downstream” (by Sandra Steingraber), and “La Grande Invasion” (by Stéphane Horel in French).

The goal of the IPCP is to coordinate and collect scientific results about chemical pollution problems on both a national and international scale, and to provide summaries and interpretations of the available knowledge for decision makers and the public.


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