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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.

Eight years of REACH – an overall success but still much work

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

The Federal Ministry for Environment (BMUB) and the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) have drawn positive conclusions after eight years of REACH: The EU chemicals regulation REACH has made important progress towards the improved and sustainable use of chemicals, both in Europe and around the world. However, practice has also shown that the regulation presents new challenges every day. read more

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Pharmaceuticals in the environment: a new test system for effect

Trout

Residues of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment may affect flora and fauna. The goal of a three-year UBA-funded research project was to find a quick and reliable test system to be used for monitoring of such harmful effects in vivo. The results of the first project part are now available. read more

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Environmental emissions of Bisphenol A

Excavator bucket with sediment in a river

Due to its effects on hormone systems, Bisphenol A is a worldwide controversially discussed, but also an economically important substance. In Europe, chemical industry is producing 1.15 million tons annually. read more

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Regulations on biocides still patchy

A wooden fence is painted

Regulations on the use of biocides must become more specific and more binding. The risks of these substances, which are contained in products such as wood preservatives and insect repellents, were underestimated for a long time. read more

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The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment