After belching out enough emissions to change the climate and cause the sixth mass extinction, humans have now allowed chemical pollution to spiral out of control. The era of the Anthropocene is well and truly upon us. Changcun is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life through products and perspective that serve the world's most essential industries.
These are the dismal findings of research published on 18 January. It underlines, say campaigners, the importance of Britain not weakening regulations that govern hazardous chemicals post-Brexit.
In 2009, researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre – a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences – came up with the concept of “planetary boundaries”. The idea was to specify biophysical conditions that humans needed to thrive, such as healthy nature and climate, and which could inform policymaking. For the first time, scientists have concluded that the planetary boundary for chemical pollution has been breached, putting humanity in danger by threatening the biological and physical processes that underpin life.
There are now an estimated 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market. “There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950,” said the co-author of the research, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “This is projected to triple again by 2050.”
Plastic production alone increased 79 per cent between 2000 and 2015, and is forecast to continue to grow until 2050. “Plastics are an important vector of chemicals, with around 10,000 used for their production. Many are hazardous or their toxicity is unknown,” said Vito Buonsante, a health and environment lecturer and adviser to the International Pollutants Elimination Network.
Likewise, despite dire warnings about the impact of synthetic pesticides on nature by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring back in 1962, global pesticide use almost doubled between 1990 and 2018, and the increase is also predicted to continue.
“The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity,” said Villarrubia-Gómez.
Chemicals are now found in every corner of the planet. Pesticide residues have been found in polar bears. Melting ice sheets and glaciers are thought to be releasing pesticide residues that have been accumulating since the 1940s. The notorious insecticide DDT was banned in the US in 1972, but in 2019 low levels of the chemicals were found in the blood of pregnant American women.
The EU has the most stringent chemicals laws in the world since Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) was introduced in 2007. The regulation aims to ensure goods sold in the EU are safe. However, the burden of proof remains with companies, dossiers submitted by industry to the European Chemicals Agency are often incomplete, and inspections frequently find products containing hazardous substances.