This is why you should care about hazardous chemicals

This is why you should care about hazardous chemicals

Published on 26 Apr 2023

When thinking about hazardous chemicals, often the first images that pop into one’s mind are of thick black smoke coming out of factory chimneys or low-flying airplanes spraying pesticides on crop fields.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. What many people might not have realised is that modern life has brought hazardous chemicals into our homes and everyday lives.

Man-made toxic chemicals are common ingredients in many everyday products. The computer or mobile phone that you’re using to read this text surely contains flame retardants to prevent it from catching fire, and the same goes for the sofa you’re sitting on or the carpet beneath your feet.

We’re constantly exposed to a cocktail of chemicals that are hazardous to either us or the environment

If you bought street food this week, the glossy wrapping or styrofoam packaging it came in was most certainly treated with PFAS to prevent the contents from sticking to it, and if you were wearing your waterproof jacket that day because of the weather, you were exposed to the same kind of chemicals.

These are just two groups of problematic chemicals that we’re exposed to on a daily basis, the reality is that we’re constantly exposed to a cocktail of chemicals that are hazardous to either us or the environment in some way.

Scientists have, for example, linked the fact that men in the Western world produce half as much sperm as they did 40 years ago to exposure to toxic chemicals. Studies show that exposure to toxic chemicals results in girls entering puberty earlier, increasing the risk of getting breast cancer later in life. Other studies link exposure to toxic chemicals to a loss of four to five IQ points in children.

Health effects from harmful chemicals

As for the environment, hazardous chemicals and other pollutants such as plastic waste and pharmaceutical pollutants are released in large quantities across the Earth, accumulating in nature and wildlife and threatening to disrupt fragile ecosystems. A recent expedition to the Antarctic found microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals in even the most remote and pristine habitats of the Antarctic.

Many of the world’s foremost chemical researchers are convinced that the presence of hazardous chemicals in the world is a global threat comparable to climate change. And the public is concerned too. According to a survey by the EU Commission, European citizens are worried as well – 85 percent stated they are worried about how chemicals affect their health (90% are worried about chemicals and the environment!).

The fact that people are worried is not surprising when you consider the numbers. The global chemical industry is huge. Many millions of tons of chemicals are produced each year and the majority of them are hazardous in some way or another.

In fact, 73 percent of all the chemicals in Europe are hazardous to human health and/or the environment – that equals 220 million tons.

Chemical researchers are convinced that hazardous chemicals are a global threat comparable to climate change

What about other parts of the world? It’s unknown because the EU is the only region that is transparent about chemicals production. In addition, it has the strictest chemicals regulations. Considering this, an educated guess is that the situations are even worse in regions like the USA and Asia.

And chemicals are big business too. In 2017, the value of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion US dollars and it is projected to double by 2030.

In short, there are numerous reasons why you should care about hazardous chemicals. This is why ChemSec, together with other environmental non-profit organisations, progressive companies, academia, and other stakeholders, is working towards a toxic-free future.

This is not an impossible dream – it is very achievable. Many of the hazardous substances in widespread use are replaceable with safer alternatives. To make this happen, ChemSec influences EU chemicals legislation and collaborates with progressive companies and investors to drive the change to safer alternatives.

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