Last week report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) goes over the connection between human health and environment, addressing, among other topics, the exposure to chemicals in Europe.
Human exposure to chemicals occurs continuously and through different pathways, such as water, food and consumer products. Some of them harmless, concern is focused now on those persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (PBT), although current knowledge about their impact on human health keeps being quite scarce. According to the OECD, global chemicals production is growing, and with the increasing contribution from Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa, the global chemicals industry is expected to rise by over 3% per year.
Carcinogenic and mutagenic substances have long been on the environmental agenda, as well as heavy metals, and as for the latter, the report points out that even if risk perception seemed to go down because of the significant reduction of the emissions, work is still needed to limit human exposure to them, particularly to cadmium and mercury. In addition, the late and dramatic growth of IT industry would potentially increase the exposure to heavy and rare-earth metals, mostly in the phase of disposal and recycling.
On the other hand, endocrine disruptors and persistent chemicals (or those that, without being persistent, are so ubiquitous in the environment that they are continuously present in our body) are now in the spotlight. Among them, special attention is being placed on phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), and the controversial bisphenol A, with endocrine disruptor properties. All these substances are present in plastics, personal care products, electronics and all kind of consumer products.
Finally, health impact of mixtures of chemicals is also a priority. A chemical is not isolated in the environment, but combined with up to hundreds of other substances, and although this has been tackled by some European programmes such as PHYME (2006-2011), deeper knowledge about them is highly demanded.
According to the report, legislation concerning endocrine disruptors and mixtures of chemicals is expected to come out in the near future. In addition, the EEA stands for other measures:
- Promotion of a sustainable pattern of consumption and production of chemicals by stimulating the use of a green chemistry which takes into consideration factors such as origin of raw materials, water and energy demand, greenhouse gases emissions and waste generation.
- Improvement of the risk assessment methodologies, since there is a generalized belief that the current methodologies actually underestimate the risk. The inclusion of the concepts of mixtures of chemicals and endocrinology seems paramount to obtain a more efficient methodology.
- Integration of environmental and human monitoring. Although environmental monitoring has been used for years to detect chemicals in the environment, human biomonitoring is equally needed in order to assess exposures to pollutants.
SOME SURPRISING DATA YOU CAN FIND IN THE REPORT:
- Global annual sales of chemical products doubled from 2000 to 2009.
- About one quarter of the amount of the phthalate DEHP produced per year is released to the the environment.
- The European Union produces about 1 million tonnes per year of BPA, and consumes more than 700 000 tonnes per year.
By Tamara Coello/ firstname.lastname@example.org.