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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.

Studies of mercury, acrylamide and pesticides exposure

Blutprobe im Reagenzglas

The human biomonitoring initiative known as HBM4EU was launched nearly one year ago with a funding volume of 74 million euros. The project has now decided to take a closer look at nine new substances including mercury, acrylamide, glyphosate and fipronil. read more

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Plant protection product application by helicopter – only after close scrutiny, even on Natura 2000 sites

Sonnendurchfluteter Wald mit Weg

Pesticides may only be applied on Natura 2000 sites if the procedure has received prior approval for tolerability in accordance with an exacting authorisation procedure under EU nature conservation law. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the German Environment Agency (UBA) have produced a guide for the responsible authorities in the Länder on how to conduct this check. read more

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Online survey: Chemicals in consumer goods

Yellow rubber ducks

Certain chemical substances are harmful to man and the environment. As part of the “AskREACH” EU LIFE project, staff in companies which produce or sell consumer products are able to partake in an online survey on “Substances of Very High Concern” in manufactured products until 30 September 2018. The results will be incorporated in the development of a Europe wide database and app. read more

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The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment