Risk is Dead

Chemical Industry

Risk is Dead

Published on 10 May 2021

The circular economy forces us to focus on the hazardous properties of chemicals. To neglect this and instead talk about the risk of exposure is close to absurd. Surprisingly, some parts of the chemical industry still do this. It’s time for a change of mind.

Last week, ChemSec launched an awareness campaign putting the spotlight on the silly and dangerous arguments that are being used to delay and impede any attempts to remove hazardous chemicals from consumer products.

Allow us to introduce Hoogenboezem-Fisher, a made-up PR and lobby firm that works for the laggards, for those who refuse to step into the 21st century and take responsibility for the hazardous chemicals they produce, and the problems they eventually cause for ordinary people all around the globe.

When visiting the Hoogenboezem-Fisher website, everything seems like a joke. There are plenty of absurd taglines and slogans that will make you laugh. The problem is that these things are actually being said by lobbyists today, and hammered into all legislative processes that concerns chemicals.

“This leads to the conclusion that salt is basically as dangerous as carcinogenic substances”

One of the most common arguments from the Hoogenboezem-Fisher companies of the real world, is that it’s all about the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals. Meaning, as long as we can minimize the risk of exposure, it should be fine to place any hazardous chemical in consumer products.

Another outrageous argument that they use concerns the level of exposure and the assumption that the dose makes the poison. This leads to the conclusion that salt is basically as dangerous as carcinogenic substances, because salt can kill you too, if you have too much of it.

The same can of course be said about any other substance – such as water – and it goes without saying that this kind of argumentation only serves to dumb down the conversation. Still, this whataboutism is used over and over again to justify the use of hazardous chemicals.

Placing hazardous chemicals in consumer products is not only bad for health and environmental reasons. These substances will also ruin the circular economy; mainly because there is no way of knowing where they will end up when the consumer products are to be recycled.

It is difficult to calculate the risk of exposure, since it is impossible to know how consumer products will be handled once they are on the market. It is even more difficult in a circular economy, as new products are being made from the scraps of the first product.

The complexity of the calculation will grow exponentially, as more and more products are being recycled and the materials from these products are being reused. It is safe to say that it is impossible to calculate the risk of exposure.

“That’s what is at stake here: real, tangible business opportunities”

The alternative is of course to not recycle products containing hazardous chemicals, but this is not really an option in a circular economy. A recent report from ChemSec shows that the revenues of the European recycling industry would grow by the billions if hazardous substances were removed from consumer products.

And that’s what is at stake here: real, tangible business opportunities for the ones smart enough to seize them. It’s happening right now. We can already see that producers of toxic chemicals are plummeting on the stock market, while frontrunners are moving in the opposite direction.

So, don’t read this as just another NGO complaining, calling for more “burdensome regulation” and trying to “shut down business”. It’s actually the other way around. We’re simply showing policy makers how they can push this positive transition along. We are saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!”. It’s the “let’s risk manage ourselves out of this situation”-companies that are the naysayers.

We need to stop listening to the Hoogenboezem-Fisher companies of the real world, and their silly and dangerous arguments for why we should refuse progress.

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