Ethical Performance
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Chemical contamination still issue for Environment Agency

July 2013

New chemicals used by manufacturers, along with their products, are bringing fresh health risks, even though European environmental policies have reduced contamination in air, water and food, reports a team of EU researchers.

The wider range of contaminants was revealed as global sales of products from the chemicals sector were shown to have doubled between 2000 and 2009.

The report, from the EU’s European Environment Agency and the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house science service, warns particularly of “endocrine-disrupting chemicals” harming the human hormone system.

These substances are said to be contained in many common products, such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides and cosmetics.

The pharmaceutical contaminants, including those that damage hormone function, have been found in water supplies and are not always removed by water treatment.

The industries thought to be the worst offenders are energy producers burning fossil fuels, steel manufacturers, partly because of the combustion processes they use, and agriculture.

Many of the polluting companies are reported to be in Benelux countries, Germany, Poland and the UK. Countries where they are least apparent are France, the Scandinavian nations and Spain. The researchers admit the effects are not yet fully understood but suspect the chemicals are contributing to obesity, cancer, declining sperm count, genital malformation and nervous system impairments.

Other health concerns are raised over nanotechnology applications, though little is known about this field, and devices emitting electromagnetic fields, such as mobile phones. Fears of cancer risks from mobiles have often been raised but conclusive evidence is lacking. All data on possible links will be reviewed by the European Commission’s scientific committees before the end of this year.

The report emphasises that socio-economic factors, lifestyles and general health status may add to the effects of industrial contamination, and it concludes that a study embracing all aspects is now needed.

Dr Dorota Jarosinska, environment and project manager at the environment agency, said her organisation preferred consultation to confrontation and was always “open to dialogue” with companies worried about pollution from their operations so that it could suggest remedies.

European Commission | Europe | Environment


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