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Chemicals

Some 15 or 20 years ago, environmental pollution and chemicals were to all intents and purposes synonymous by virtue of the fact that our waterbodies, soil and air were being polluted by an onslaught of chemical products. Since then, the situation has greatly improved and other environmental concerns have come to the fore.

Significant progress has been made in the chemical industry in terms of emissions and chemical safety. The industry itself is now far more aware of the fact that apart from being a driver of progress, chemicals also pose a threat to human health and the environment. This increased awareness was largely attributable to the adoption of laws requiring that chemicals be investigated and assessed before being placed on the market. Hence the chemical industry is one of the most strictly regulated sectors when it comes environmental protection.

But there’s still work to be done. While cases of acute poisoning have become less frequent, chronic illnesses provoked by chemicals in indoor air, consumer products and food remain a concern. And unfortunately, pesticides – their name notwithstanding – affect not only pests but also non-pests, whereby examples of this phenomenon abound. The decline in farmland biodiversity is largely attributable to the fact that pesticides are a death knoll for the forage of many animal species.

Biocides from facade plaster and boat paint are harmful to water. And while pharmaceutical drugs help keep both humans, farm animals and pets healthy, the residues they leave in our soil and water can be detrimental to the organisms that live there. Also, new risks and threats are becoming a cause of great concern: Minute concentrations of hormones from various chemical substances are reprotoxic for both plants and animals. Persistent non-biodegradable inputs accumulate in ecosystems and living organisms. New investigation methods are needed in order to investigate the properties of nanomaterials. And finally, these kinds of toxic substances have an environmental impact not singly, but rather collectively and often cumulatively as well.

Chemical safety is a major cause for concern nowadays in Europe and around the world. In the interest of strengthening domestic markets and cutting costs, the EU has been gradually replacing national approval and assessment procedures with European ones. But this of course does not absolve the member states from meeting their responsibilities, for they are still required to take on the key assessment, management and monitoring tasks. As the leading chemical producer in Europe and number four worldwide, Germany has a particular stewardship responsibility in this domain. Moreover, the steady growth in international trade calls for worldwide measures; for many problems that once afflicted Europe such as DDT toxicity and dioxin and furan emissions remain unresolved elsewhere. And while some progress has been made, we are far from achieving sustainable chemicals policies.

Antibiotics: livestock industry and human medicine can pollute groundwater

 a lot of pills in different colours

Antibiotics used in livestock breeding and in human medicine can find their way into groundwater says a recent study by the German Environment Agency (UBA). Maria Krautzberger, President of UBA, commented: "Groundwater must stay clean. This is the reason why the German Environment Agency has issued a recommendation for a threshold for antibiotics in groundwater." read more

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Improve regulation of Nanomaterials

Nano structures

Until now, with few exceptions, there are no specific provisions for nanomaterials within the substance legislations. As a result, specific environmental risks cannot be described and assessed adequately. Therefore, the main aim of this paper is to outline the necessary further development of chemi¬cals regulations for nanomaterials with regard to the environment from UBA´s perspective. read more

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New thresholds for carcinogenic PAHs in (baby) toys and more

rubber ducks

Since 27 December 2015 consumer goods may no longer exceed a very low content of eight carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). A threshold of 0.5 mg/kg applies for toys and baby items. Other rubber or plastic products such as gardening gloves or mouse pads may contain no more than 1 mg/kg. read more

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Plant protection products

Bauer brings out pesticides in his field

Chemicals enter the environment every day, but there is hardly a substance group that is used with more purpose and in such large amounts than plant protection products. read more

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Background paper “Pharmaceuticals in the Environment”

Tabletten werden aus Behältnis geschüttet

How do pharmaceuticals get into the environment? Can residues of pharmaceuticals in water and soil harm plants, animals or even human health? What is being done to prevent this, and what can I do? The Federal Environment Agency’s background paper, which is now also available in English, sheds light on these and other questions surrounding the topic of pharmaceuticals in the environment. read more

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The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment