The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has recently presented the annual follow-up of the 16 environmental objectives to the Government. The Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI) has contributed to the section about the environmental objective A Non-Toxic Environment. KemI’s assessment is that the environmental objective will not be achieved by 2020, given the current circumstances.
The environmental quality objective A Non-Toxic Environment is formulated as follows: The occurrence of man-made or extracted substances in the environment must not represent a threat to human health or biological diversity. Concentrations of non-naturally occurring substances will be close to zero and their impacts on human health and on ecosystems will be negligible. Concentrations of naturally occurring substances will be close to background levels.
This year's follow-up shows that the concentration of some pollutants decreases in the environment, but long-lived, i.e. persistent, substances are still a problem. There are many chemical substances and new ones are added constantly. The knowledge is often inadequate about their impact on health and the environment and the risks we are exposed to. The development of policy instruments is good, but there is also a need to take action.
Some improvements - but big problems remain
Concentrations of some pollutants decrease in the environment, but persistent substances remain a problem. Particularly hazardous substances, such as cadmium, can be found in certain products, and these hazardous substances are at risk to end up in new products after recycling.
There are still many polluted areas due to past industrial activities. These areas represent a huge risk to the environment and health. Throughout the country there are about 1,300 such polluted areas. Since 2007, however, the number of areas that has been cleaned up increases each year.
Knowledge is also missing about how substances are used in articles and about diffuse emissions of chemical substances. Thus, it is often difficult to assess the risk that we are exposed to. It is also difficult to give an unambiguous assessment of the risks of the chemicals included in articles and around us in our environment.
Policy instruments help to reduce the risk
Successful collaboration about the chemicals legislation within the EU is expected to result in better protection from chemical hazards. This applies to the implementation of the REACH Regulation, rules on the classification and labelling (CLP Regulation), new regulations on plant protection products and biocides and the rules governing restrictions on chemicals in toys. The control of chemical substances in articles is still insufficient. To reduce the risks, further action is necessary also at an international level, as articles bought and used in Sweden are often made in remote countries.
There is also a need for a new policy instrument to limit risks with endocrine disrupting substances and with so called combination effects. Such instruments are currently on the planning stage.
More research is needed
Research and development is needed particularly in the case of endocrine disruptors, nano materials and combination effects. The research in sustainable chemistry, so-called green chemistry, must continue, and the development of decontamination of polluted areas.