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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.

Chemicals Regulation REACH: companies must make improvements

Erklärung des Begriffs REACH: Europäische Chemikalienverordnung zur Registrierung, Bewertung, Zulassung und Beschränkung chemischer Stoffe

More than half of the registration dossiers governed by the European REACH Regulation are not compliant with at least one of the seven screened data requirements, for example information on mutagenicity. These are the conclusions of a study carried out by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). read more

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Phasing out the flame retardant HBCD

Builders insulating a house

For a long time the chemical hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD, was the most economically significant flame retardant used in polystyrene foam for insulation materials. Our background paper, also available in English, provides answers to the most important questions concerning the phase-out. read more

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The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment