An important part of a chemicals policy aiming at the elimination of hazardous substances is the Polluter pays principle. The bottom line of this approach is that the company or persons who cause an environmental damage should pay for the consequences. This creates an incentive to substitute hazardous substances and to use the safest chemicals possible.

This principle may seem natural and most people believe this is practice everywhere. But when it comes to damages to the environment, the practice is almost always the opposite. The polluters get away with it and society takes the beating. The reason this principle has not been applied concerning chemicals is that legislation has focused on trying to connect a certain substance in a certain place to a certain company or person. This is almost impossible since chemicals are so widely spread throughout the environment, society and our bodies. As a rule it is difficult to tell where they came from since they are used in so many places.

Even when the source has been identified the polluters are considered un-liable since the authorities had permitted the production and release. So we all pay the costs for the ubiquitous presence of PCB in the in the environment and our food, the pesticides in ground water around the world and the phthalates found in mothers milk everywhere. Aside from the effects on human health and the environment, the economic consequences of these releases are astronomical.

This practice is contradictory to practice in most other areas. Smokers have sued tobacco-companies, forcing them to pay for health damages even though it is permitted to sell tobacco. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies are liable for the damages caused by their medicines – which have also been approved by authorities. A chemicals policy aiming to eliminate hazardous substances needs to use the Polluter pays principle as an incentive to develop and use the least hazardous substances available. Producers of chemicals should be made liable for the damages they cause.